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Rehoboth police feeling face mask fatigue

Officers, seasonal cadets tired of encountering belligerence while trying to enforce mandate
August 7, 2020

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach City Hall
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

For months now, in response to COVID-19, Rehoboth Beach police officers and seasonal cadets have been tasked with enforcing a mandate requiring face mask wearing in all public places. Recently, Chief Keith Banks said the force is getting tired.

“It’s relentless,” said Banks. “It’s day-in and day-out with the tourist industry and turnover.”

Banks estimated his cadets are making contact 500 times a day with individuals about putting a mask on. They’re getting tired of repeating themselves over and over, and also getting yelled at, he said.

“It is becoming more difficult,” said Banks. “I feel like a broken record. More and more people we make contact with are being combative.”

Banks said the police department has handed out nearly 18,000 masks and placed an order for more. He said 69 citations have been issued to people for not wearing masks.

Banks’ comments came Aug. 4, during the board of commissioners’ weekly special meeting regarding the city’s response to the pandemic. Commissioners Richard Byrne, Edward Chrzanowski and Lisa Schlosser said they continue to get comments from constituents and business owners about inconsistencies in face mask enforcement.

Mayor Paul Kuhns said the police were doing the best they could do under a situation that’s never happened before. He didn’t encourage commissioners to confront people without a mask on, but he did encourage them to walk the Boardwalk and city streets to see what’s going on. It’s incumbent on city officials to show support for the staff, he said.

“The other alternative is to shut the town down, and I know no one wants to do that,” said Kuhns.

Banks said what’s happening is that people are carrying a mask, putting it on as an officer approaches and then removing the mask once they’re a few steps beyond the officer. Most people know about the face mask mandate and they’re choosing not to wear one, he said.

Banks took responsibility for cadets losing some of their desire to enforce the face mask mandate, but he said it’s important to remember the cadets are 19, 20 and 21 years old. He said he would continue to reinforce the message.

In addition to the verbal abuse, Banks said there are staffing issues. Normally, he said, the city hires 26 seasonal officers, but only 22 were hired this year and that number quickly dropped to 20 soon after the summer began.

City Manager Sharon Lynn said five seasonal officers have left because of staggering amount of belligerent behavior they encountered. She said her main concern is keeping officers safe, which means it becomes a difficult mandate to enforce.

Banks said the staffing issues will continue through the fall. Typically, he said, 14 or 15 seasonal officers sign up to work the weekends through the annual Sea Witch festival; this year, there are seven signed up to work after Labor Day, he said.

Resident Tom Evans has been an ardent listener and contributor to the online meetings.

“I would not want to be in the seasonal officers’ shoes,” he said. “We only have another four weeks of the hard part of the season.”

There will be no special meeting related to the city’s COVID-19 next week. However, the discussion will take place during the commissioners’ regularly scheduled monthly workshop Monday, Aug. 10. During that meeting, Lynn is expected to go over the city’s finances through the first quarter of the fiscal year, which began April 1.

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