Three of Central Oregon’s largest law enforcement agencies plan to comply with the governor’s new mask mandate for outdoor settings, but both sheriffs in Jefferson and Crook counties are adamantly opposed to the COVID-19 restrictions that started Friday.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Bend Police Department and Redmond Police Department all provided statements to The Bulletin saying they intend to inform the public about what the mandate requires: masks must be worn in all outdoor public settings where social distancing is not possible.
The mandate, announced Tuesday, expanded Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate that masks must be worn indoors.
Deputies with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and Bend and Redmond police officers will not respond to every mask related complaint, but will leave the possibility of enforcement open.
Jefferson County Sheriff Marc Heckathorn and Crook County Sheriff John Gautney, however, join a host of Oregon sheriff’s in condemning Brown’s latest COVID-19 restrictions, as cases and deaths continue to rise throughout the state. They will not enforce the mandate under any circumstances.
Sheriffs from Klamath, Douglas, Grant, Polk and Union Counties, among others, have all decried the restrictions in recent Facebook statements.
Heckathorn told The Bulletin that his department “does not follow any of those mandates,” referring to all of Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions. In a Facebook statement made on Aug. 23, Heckathorn defended what he called “citizens’ rights.”
“I’m partnering with our Local Commissioners in both Crook and Jefferson County along with Sheriff’s from across Oregon to stand for our citizens rights,” Heckathorn said.
“Our Governor’s approach is one size fits all for the entire state and that simply doesn’t fit our counties. Our goal is to regain local control and to respect our citizens’ rights to exercise medical freedom to make decisions for themselves without government interference.”
Gautney has been vocal about not enforcing mask mandates in the past. In November , he posted a three page letter on Facebook pleading with Brown to lift statewide restrictions, including mask mandates.
Deschutes County Sheriff L. Shane Nelson stressed a limited response, with a focus on education and “voluntary compliance.”
“We have not, and do not plan on responding to calls regarding mask use as that is not an effective use of our limited resources,” Nelson said in a prepared statement. “We do forward concerns to appropriate agencies if it involves (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) for restaurants.”
Education will be stressed by Bend Police officers, said spokesperson Lt. Juli McConkey. “Especially since people coming in from out of town might not understand or be aware of the mandate,” she said.
McConkey said if there is a complaint where someone is asked to leave a business or establishment for refusing to wear a mask, Bend Police will treat it as trespassing.
Redmond Police spokesperson Lt. Jesse Peterson said the department’s officers will “continue to do our part to inform and educate community members to help them understand state and community guidelines in regards to masks.”
The Madras Police Department, Prineville Police Department and the Crook County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment.