Announcements from a number of law enforcement officials that they will not enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mask order comes with both an opportunity and a reckoning. 

The opportunity arises with the ability to test a theory behind the defund police movement that asserts that non-sworn public officials can mediate and deal with situations that do not require use of force. The reckoning is the natural outcome of police attitude toward the changing laws from felonies to misdemeanors that frequently put the perpetrator of crimes back on the streets with no punishment to the frustration of law enforcement.  If there is no enforcement, why bother?

The Sacramento County sheriff, among others, found that it is “inappropriate for deputies to criminally enforce the Governor’s mandate” on masks considering the “minor nature of the offense.” Other law enforcement agencies up and down the state made similar  statements.

It is an attitude born out of frustration by law enforcement officials expressed over changes in California law that make it more difficult to penalize what the laws now define as misdemeanor rather than felony offenses, many crimes valued at $950 or less. You can sense the link between the situations. If dealing with devalued felonies aggravates law enforcement, why try to enforce an unenforceable order when no penalties are assessed?

If police won’t enforce the mask mandate who do citizens and business owners turn to if they witness a violation of the order? 

If a business posts a sign that under a state order no one is admitted without a mask and a patron defies the sign and enters the establishment without a mask a call would presumably go to health services or social services to deal with situation. We will have a test of the emerging philosophy of reducing responsibilities for police and centering them elsewhere. 

What enforcement mechanism a health official would have is unclear, but then enforcement methods have been reduced from policing as indicated above.  

The governor argues the best approach to deal with the still spreading coronavirus is to educate people to wear masks. 

That would be the ideal solution. Tell someone the facts about the virus, ask them to wear a mask, and they will comply for their sake and the sake of others. An opportunity for succeeding without police.

But if the situation escalates to angry exchanges what happens? How will the government intermediaries with no arresting power respond, especially with police officials stepping away from such situations? Considering the polarization around the mask issue, I think we are about to find out.