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Batesville Police, Independence County Sheriff’s Department comment on mask mandate

The Batesville Police Department and the Independence County Sheriff’s Department have released statements regarding Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s statewide mask mandate.

From Batesville Police Chief Alan Cockrill:

The Batesville Police Department has a responsibility for the safety of the citizens of Batesville and the citizens who work and shop here.

While we have a duty to enforce the law, we are asking for the business owners and the employees of each business to assist us in the recent mask order by the governor.

Also, if a patron of any business observes a violation, please notify an employee or the owner of the business. We are asking patrons to not call dispatch. Just alert employees and/or the owners of the business in question. We are also asking the employees and/or owners to attempt to resolve this issue by asking the person in question to wear a mask or exit the business.

If the person in question refuses, the owner or employee can notify dispatch and officers from the Batesville Police Department will deal with the incident.

Possible charges include disorderly conduct or criminal trespassing.

Thanks for your cooperation in these trying times.

And from the office of Sheriff Shawn Stephens:

The Independence County Sheriff’s Department is charged with protecting and serving all people without regard for the person’s race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, ancestry, or disabilities. The coronavirus (COVID-19) issue has caused many debates among people about the best way to handle this threat to our health, safety, and welfare.

Having had the opportunity to carefully review the governor’s executive order and the opportunity to speak directly to the governor about the issues, I want to address the citizens of Independence County.

As sheriff, I feel that the citizens and visitors of Independence County know when they should and should not wear a mask and whether they fall within one of the several exemptions of the face-covering mandate.

The response of the Independence County Sheriff’s Department for any call for service is always determined based on urgency, severity, and the risk to citizens and we will direct our resources to calls based upon those criteria and public safety.

All law enforcement agencies in America today struggle with the challenge of sufficient manpower in the face of dramatic increases in violent and non-violent crimes. It’s a must that we prioritize the handling of all calls based on urgency and public safety.

I would like to remind our citizens that our 911 system can quickly get overloaded, so refrain from using 911 to report any non-emergency issues. Please keep in mind that reporting a mask concern does not constitute an emergency.

Independence County will not arrest, detain, or cite citizens for failure to comply with a mask mandate. It will be our practice to utilize verbal warnings to address a violation. A private business maintains its ability to make, or not make, rules in their own establishment, and to ask for the assistance of law enforcement to remove patrons who do not comply with store rules.

The sheriff’s department will respond to complaint calls where a person has been asked by a local business owner to comply with the mask directive or leave the premises, but then refuses to leave. This would constitute a criminal trespass matter that is a separate and distinct violation under the law.

As sheriff, my personal opinions have no bearing on the decisions that are made in these situations. The sheriff’s department does not make or pass laws, and we must rely on the courts to interpret the meaning of the language and provisions of the respective constitutions.

Persons having questions or concerns about the health directive, or non-compliance of the governor’s executive order, should contact the Arkansas Department of Health at (501) 661-2000.

~Sheriff Shawn Stephens

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