Austin Police explain how they'll enforce face mask-wearing requirement
File image of two APD officers wearing face masks. (CBS Austin)

Violating Austin’s new order requiring people to wear face masks out in public could lead to criminal action but the Austin Police Department’s policy shows a lot has to happen before a violator is cited.

State and local officials have begun discussions on how we can go back to some sense of normalcy, eventually. Making face mask wearing a requirement has been a part of those conversations.

“The Austin Police Department plans on enforcing that,” said APD Assistant Chief Robin Henderson.

Asst. Chief Henderson said APD is in the “education and awareness” phase of enforcement, making sure people are aware of the order and what is considered a proper, safe mask and how to wear it.

City officials have already issued a flyer for businesses to post requiring all customers wear fabric face coverings before entering the store.

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Eventually, APD will look for “voluntary compliance” for those wearing face masks in public, but Henderson says if someone shows a repeated pattern of not wearing a mask, they could be cited.

“A situation where the individual had been warned and knew what the compliance of the orders and they had been provided a pamphlet on what appropriate mask fitting would be, then at that point it could reach a point to where someone is issued a citation,” said Henderson.

Exceptions can be made for people exercising and are outside with people who are part of their household, or while eating or drinking. Those with mental or physical health conditions that can’t wear masks are also exempt and so are those who are experiencing homelessness.

“They are of course trying to keep that social distancing, but they are exempt from the order,” said Henderson.

In the first few hours of Wednesday morning to early afternoon, Austin 311 said they received more than 200 service requests with the keyword face mask or face coverings. And just under 200 calls on coronavirus related questions or complaints.

As the pandemic has changed nearly everything we’re familiar with, Asst. Chief Henderson said crime is on a decline since Austin streets have gone quiet.

Early in 2020, Chief Brian Manley said the year started with an uptick in crime for much of the downtown area, causing APD and DPS resources to be moved to the downtown sector.

From March 1st to April 15th of this year, APD’s Crime Viewer for the downtown zip code shows no homicides, 17 reported aggravated assaults and 21 reported burglaries. In that same time frame last year, there was one homicide, 28 aggravated assaults and 18 reported burglaries.

“Of course, there aren’t as many individuals out. We’re not being able to interact with one another in the entertainment world or anything like that. Not as much vehicle traffic but the crime stats have decreased,” said Henderson.

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