Police in Maine will begin dealing Friday with a new mandate from Gov. Janet Mills requiring all people wear face coverings where it is not possible to maintain social distancing.

“I think probably that’s the most frequent question we’re getting since this last update from the governor — wearing masks in public,” Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said Thursday afternoon.

Officers will use good judgment and consider potential violations on a case-by-case basis, according to Massey.

If, for instance, a person who is not wearing a face-covering walks down the street and is 3 or 4 feet from another person, an officer will not approach them, Massey said.

However, if three or four people are congregating too close to one another and not wearing masks, an officer would likely talk to them and explain the governor’s order, according to Massey.

“You’ve got to use a lot of common sense,” he said. “You have to look at the situation and make a decision — is this a violation here?”

Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta Police Department said Mills’ latest order on face coverings “fits into our existing policy that covers her existing executive orders.”

Adam Chapman waits outside Save-A-Lot at The Concourse with taco ingredients and cookies as he waits for his mother Billie Jean Chase on Thursday. Waterville Police will address Gov. Janet Mills’ order to wear masks outside on a case-by-case basis. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“We will always take the stance of educating the public to gain voluntary compliance based on the totality of the circumstances,” he said. “Law enforcement by way of a ticket is always the last resort.”

Asked under what circumstances a ticket might be issued, Mills said he could not be specific.

“So far, everyone has been in compliance,” he said. “We have met with them (when an issue has arisen) and we have not had to write a ticket.”

Deputy Chief Rick Stubbert said the Oakland Police Department has been considering how to approach and enforce the new requirements set by the governor.

“We’re still seeking input and direction,” Stubbert said Thursday. “(We’re) not in a position to answer definitively yet. We’re aware of it and we’re looking into it.” 

In Skowhegan, Chief David Bucknam said the Police Department is looking to educate the public on the governor’s executive order on wearing masks.

“We feel, with proper communication, the public will voluntarily comply as they have been during this state of emergency,” Bucknam said.

“Skowhegan officers have all been issued masks and will be wearing them when dealing with the public — not only to set an example by following the governor’s executive order, but to set the example during this health crisis.”

Bucknam also said people must understand they are required to follow practices and rules set by businesses.

“If they do not meet the establishment’s requirements and are asked to leave, then they need to leave,” he said.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said that after meeting with his chief deputy and patrol division commander, he hopes the public will comply with the executive order. And those found in violation of the order will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Lancaster said sheriff’s deputies in Somerset County have been provided personal protective equipment, or PPE, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are still answering calls and doing our job, but taking precautions as we go,” Lancaster said. “Having said that, as a result of this latest order, our deputies that are on traffic stops are going to be required to wear PPE masks.”

 

Kennebec Journal editor Rob Montana contributed to this report.

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