Marion County, FL – Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods has banned his deputies from wearing face masks while on duty, and said he will not allow civilians to enter the department if they are wearing face coverings.
“My order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn,” Sheriff Woods wrote in an internal email on Aug. 11, according to the Ocala Star-Ledger.
Deputies will be allowed to wear masks when they are working inside the schools, jail, courthouse, hospitals, or with people who are believed to be infected with the novel coronavirus, but they must “immediately” remove their masks “the moment that enforcement action is to be taken and it requires you to give an individual orders/commands to comply,” according to Sheriff Woods.
The sheriff and other Marion County law enforcement leaders said that it is important for law enforcement officers to forgo masks so that their communications with citizens remain clear and audible, the Ocala Star-Ledger reported.
“As for special details and/or any special events (paid or not), masks will not be worn,” Sheriff Woods wrote in the email. “Effective immediately the entity that has requested and has hired a deputy for a special detail will be given clear instruction…that masks will not be worn (unless one of the exceptions above applies).”
“In addition, if you are the special detail deputy you will again advise the contact person that a mask will not be worn by you,” the sheriff added.
In the event deputies are confronted about not wearing masks, they are to “politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff,” before walking away from them, according to Sheriff Woods.
The sheriff further explained that one of the reasons he will not allow citizens to wear masks on department property is out of concern for his staff, the Ocala Star-Ledger reported.
“In light of the current events when it comes to the sentiment and/or hatred toward law enforcement in our country today, this is being done to ensure there is clear communication and for identification purposes of any individual walking into a lobby,” he wrote.
Citizens who refuse to remove their masks before entering MCSO property will be asked to leave, the Ocala Star-Ledger reported.
“If the individual is not comfortable with standing and waiting in the lobby with other individuals, politely ask for their cell number and advise them to stand outside or sit in their vehicle and you will text or call them with their completed transaction,” Sheriff Woods said.
The sheriff’s order came just days after the Ocala City Council issued an emergency ordinance mandating mask use inside local businesses, the Ocala Star-Ledger reported.
The mandate was vetoed by Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, but the council said it will meet on Wednesday to consider overriding the veto.
“[Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham] and I have talked about it,” Guinn told WSKY. “We will never write a fine. We’re just not going to do it.”
“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not,” Sheriff Woods told the Ocala Star-Ledger. “The fact is, the amount of professionals that give the reason why we should, I can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn’t.”
“Since the beginning of this pandemic the operation of this office has not changed and no wearing of masks has been put in place,” he added.
The MCSO employs approximately 900 people, the Ocala Star-Ledger reported.
At least 43 employees – 36 of whom work inside the Marion County Jail – have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, in addition to over 200 inmates.
A nurse who worked at the jail and tested positive for COVID-19 recently died, according to the Ocala Star-Ledger.
“Our number of cases so far has proven that the current way we are approaching the issue is working,” Sheriff Woods said. “This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion. Please keep in mind this entire pandemic is fluid and constantly changing the way things are done. However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address.”
The police chiefs in Belleview, Ocala, and Dunnellon said they are more concerned about officers being heard clearly than they are about ordering them to wear masks at all times, the Ocala Star-Ledger reported.
They said that their departments have provided officers with masks, but that it is up to every officer to decide whether they will wear it or not.