The Houston Police Officers’ Union on Wednesday responded in brazen fashion to a local government order requiring that citizens wear masks in public as Texas begins to reopen in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced on Wednesday an order mandating the use of medical masks or other face coverings by those above the age of 10 for at least 30 days, beginning Monday, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The order will be backed by a $1,000 fine doled out to any resident failing to comply.
Before Hidalgo’s order was even official, HPOU Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 110 President Joe Gamaldi penned an open letter to the community lambasting the judge for forwarding the measure — one he suggested would only serve to erode the public trust.
“We draw the line at the draconian measures Hidalgo has decided to engage in,” Gamaldi wrote.
“Our officers work every single day to bridge the gap with our community and earn their trust, we will not stand idly by and allow Hidalgo to tear that bridge down, with her horrific leadership and echo chamber decision making.”
HPOU response to @LinaHidalgoTX draconian mask order: “Now we want to be very clear, HPOU believes everyone should be wearing a mask in public, in order to protect themselves from the virus and we are encouraging all of our officers to wear a mask. However, we draw the line…” pic.twitter.com/XbphfNYHii
— Houston Police Officers’ Union (@HPOUTX) April 22, 2020
Houston police stood with Hidalgo and the nation’s leading infectious disease experts Wednesday in calling for Texans to take the national emergency seriously, wearing face coverings and adhering to other public health measures in order to slow coronavirus transmission as some semblance of normality is restored to everyday life.
Police leadership, however, was unwilling to allow local law enforcement to become the face of forcible government implementation of such measures — particularly not before the office of state Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an advisory on Hidalgo’s order.
“The HPOU has made contact with the Attorney General’s Office seeking an opinion on the legality of imposing a criminal penalty/fine for anyone not wearing a mask in public,” Gamaldi wrote. “While we wait for that opinion, we are reminding and informing our officers that they have DISCRETION, DISCRETION, DISCRETION in matters such as these. It is clear the so-called leader of Harris County, lacks any critical thinking skills, but let me assure the public, our officers do!”
“The last thing any of us need to do is kick our community while they are down,” the union president added.
According to Gamaldi, local law enforcement has already been stretched thin in light of the state’s stay-at-home order, with officers staffing coronavirus testing centers and internal police data suggesting violent crime has risen dramatically in the first quarter of the new year.
Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo told KTRK-TV at the start of April that aggravated assaults and burglaries had risen by roughly 20 percent in the first two weeks of the stay-at-home order. Domestic violence-related calls for service had also increased by six percent.
These numbers have not led Hidalgo to rethink previous orders to release a number of prison inmates in the region in order to hedge against the spread of the coronavirus among the state’s incarcerated population.
Houston is not the first city to see law enforcement organizations refusing to punish local residents for violating state public health orders, which have spread to nearly all 50 states.
According to The Washington Post, police leadership at numerous departments across the country have come forward publicly with statements suggesting they will enforce restrictive health policies at their own discretion or disregard them completely due to many such measures falling in potentially unconstitutional waters.
The Western Journal reached out to Hidalgo’s office for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
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