- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2020

Houston police are balking at enforcing a Harris County official’s order requiring everyone over age 10 to wear face masks in public, calling the measure “idiotic.”

In a fiery letter, Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union Fraternal Order of Police, said that officers have no time to enforce the order issued Wednesday, given that violent crime and property crime have both soared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” said the open letter. “However, we draw the line at the draconian measures Hidalgo has decided to engage in.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s elected chief executive, announced the order at a Wednesday press conference, saying, “We have to use every tool in the toolbox.”

“If we get complacent, people will die,” she said on ABC13 in Houston. “Those are the stakes.”

Republicans also pushed back. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweeted that the mandate was “the ultimate government overreach.”

“On the same day Harris County Commissioner’s Court plans to close the $60 million-dollar pop-up hospital at NRG Park, because it wasn’t needed, Judge Lina Hidalgo orders anyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask in public,” Mr. Patrick said in a statement. “Her abuse of the use of executive orders is the ultimate government overreach. These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger — and rightfully so.”

The order, slated to take effect Monday and last 30 days, requires Harris County residents 10 and older to cover their noses and mouths when outside using a cloth or homemade mask. Violators are subject to a $1,000 fine.

Mr. Gamaldi said the HPOU has reached out to the Texas Attorney General’s office on the legality of the order, but in the meantime, the union is telling officers that they have “DISCRETION, DISCRETION, DISCRETION” to enforce the mask requirement.

“We do not have time to be pawns in Hidalgo’s game of attempting to control the actions of law abiding, tax paying individuals of our community,” said the letter. “Especially since this idiotic order, is possibly an unconstitutional one, from the County Judge.”

Mr. Gamaldi tweeted that he wears a mask every day, but that asking officers to enforce such an order would “do irreparable damage to our relationship with the community.”

Harris County isn’t the only community in Texas with mask requirements. At least two other communities, Laredo and Willacy County, have enacted similar orders.

Harris County and Houston have a combined 5,211 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and 80 deaths, according to the public health departments, or about a quarter of all cases in Texas. The county has 4.7 million residents.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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