GLENS FALLS — Do police announce when they aren’t actively enforcing state vehicle and traffic laws on a given day, weekend or afternoon?
They don’t, for obvious reasons. They may not have a patrol car idling in the shadow of a building on Route 9 every day.
But they do respond, as best they can, to reports of dangerous driving when they get a call. They are upholding state laws with the resources they have, and that response sends a message to other motorists.
That is an analogy. In the state’s new mask mandate, there is no mention of local police agencies being required to enforce the rule, only local public health departments, which no doubt are overextended with work already. But police are keepers of the peace and often work with other agencies in enforcement, so why run the other way now?
Do county officials believe that announcing they will not enforce the state mask mandate through use of public health departments or through local police involvement is in any way helpful to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul’s main goal to stem the spread of COVID, prevent illness and help save one or many lives? Is enforcement going to be left up to a 16-year-old working a counter or a front desk of a gym? When waitstaff don’t wear masks, which was seen in one local establishment last week, [whom] do you call?
Our leaders are making a political point but are passing the buck to nowhere and creating confusion for the public in doing so. Public health continues to be in crisis nationally due to these types of turf wars.
Warren and Washington counties sent out news releases [Dec. 14], a day following Saratoga County’s similar announcement, to say they won’t be following up on mask complaints. A number of other Republican-led counties have taken similar positions.
Why, at least, wasn’t a middle step announced involving counties turning over complaint calls to the state police and the state Department of Health? These terse announcements read like political pushback, nothing more.
At a minimum, police departments and public health departments can check out reports of non-compliance with a phone call to a store, restaurant or office manager. These calls can be effective “reminders” about a state law or mandate. There is a big divide between those steps and the more involved effort to level a fine against a business for noncompliance, and our elected leaders know this.
County officials — sheriff’s offices and prosecutors on the criminal side, county attorneys on the civil side and other departments — do not have to impose every available penalty. They can and should use some degree of discretion in most cases.
But to immediately step on the soapbox and shout that staffing issues will prevent all local mask enforcement is counterproductive to the public health intent of the mandate. You don’t have to like the mandate to recognize the science and timing behind it.
These public announcements of non-enforcement instill confusion in residents and run counter to the many extraordinary efforts of front-line workers to get this pandemic under control. Our local counties should put politics aside, set an example and rethink these all-or-nothing stances.
Local editorials are written by The Post-Star editorial board, which includes Ben Rogers, president and director of local sales and marketing; Brian Corcoran, regional finance director and former publisher; and Bob Condon, local news editor.