That kind of discretion in law enforcement isn’t new and appears to be in line with what Gov. Doug Burgum handed down late Friday in new measures, a University of North Dakota law professor says. The measures including a mask mandate from Interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke are in place through Dec. 13. Violations bring an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
Burgum, who advocated personal responsibility for months while refraining from a mask mandate, encouraged law enforcement and public health agencies to “prioritize education” and provide warnings, but reserve “penalties for the most egregious violations that put public health at risk.”
Coinciding with the health officer’s mask mandate, Burgum issued an executive order limiting capacity for bars, restaurants and event venues and suspending K-12 and community sports and extracurricular activities. The governor “authorized and directed” all local, county and state law enforcement to enforce his executive order’s provisions.
Education over enforcement
The Bismarck Police Department will respond to calls about noncompliance but won’t be actively looking for people or businesses that might be in violation of the mandate, Police Chief Dave Draovitch said.
“I understand that some do not agree with this executive order, and others are grateful for it,” Draovitch said, adding that people need “to respect others and their viewpoints.”
The chief said his department understands the seriousness of the pandemic, especially to older people and those with underlying health conditions.
Bismarck police will respond to calls “with respect and courtesy, educate on the executive order when possible, and as a last resort, issue a citation if this new executive order is broken,” Draovitch said.
Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben said he was “hit from every direction” on Monday as citizens asked for more information on the mandate and his department’s stance.
Education of the public will be part of the enforcement equation, but he’s also taking steps to make sure his department is prepared.
Leben on Monday morning met with county prosecutors to form a plan for enforcement, if it’s needed. Deputies know how to handle the enforcement of infractions because most have been in place for some time, the sheriff said.
“This is unique because it’s during a pandemic,” Leben said. “We’ve never been here before.”
Leben has directed his deputies to “use good judgment and discretion” until he can put together more specific instructions for them.
“We try to resolve every situation but at some point enforcement may become necessary,” Leben said. “We want to make sure the deputies know what the parameters are.”