Florida Sheriff Bans Masks for Deputies, Cites Communication and Security Issues

Posted: Aug 12, 2020 5:45 PM
Florida Sheriff Bans Masks for Deputies, Cites Communication and Security Issues

Source: (AP Photo/Eric Gray)

A Florida sheriff is taking heat after ordering his deputies to not wear face masks while on duty, as well as requesting the same of visitors to the sheriff's department.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods has banned his deputies from wearing masks while on duty, stating the issue is "no longer up for debate."

His reasoning stems from the audible difficulties that come from hearing someone speaking through a mask, as well as the security threats posed from wearing a facial covering, especially given today's anti-cop climate. 

Woods argued that since Mayor Kent Guin of Ocala, the largest city in Marion County, had vetoed a mask mandate, the decision was left up to leaders of organizations to decide whether they would require employees to wear masks. 

On Wednesday however, the City Council overrode the veto. 

"My order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn," Woods wrote in an email to his department dated Aug. 11, obtained by the Ocala Star-Banner.

"...in light of the current events when it comes to the sentiment and/or hatred toward law enforcement in our country today, this is being done to ensure there is clear communication and for identification purposes of any individual walking into a lobby," he said. 

The sheriff also noted that there are differing opinions about whether or not people should be wearing masks. 

"We can debate and argue all day of why and why not," he added. "The fact is, the amount of professionals that give the reason why we should, I can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn’t. Since the beginning of this pandemic, the operation of this office has not changed and no wearing of masks has been put in place."

Woods also said that he understood that the order would lead to his staff dealing with backlash from the public.

"If at any time you are confronted by any individual complaining, berating you or just being a difficult individual, you will politely and professionally tell them 'I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff' and then walk away from them," the sheriff wrote.

"Please keep in mind this entire pandemic is fluid and constantly changing the way things are done," he added. "However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address."

The only exception that Woods said he would make was for deputies at the courthouse, the jail, in public schools, in hospitals, and while dealing with people suspected of being infected with COVID-19 or at high risk of complications from the disease. 

For deputies working special events, they must receive specific permission to be able to wear a face covering. 

While plenty of businesses and organizations have requested that their employees wear masks, this is one of the only cases where masks are not allowed under a majority of circumstances. 

Woods's order came on the same day Florida set a new record with 277 new deaths in one day, with 13 alone in Marion County, according to the Tampa Bay Times

His order is in violation of the recommendations by the CDC and Florida public health officials. However, local law enforcement is standing for Woods's decision. 

County Commissioner Carl Zalak told the Star-Banner that he supports Woods’ choice to ban masks.

“I agree with the Sheriff base on his best judgment and I appreciate the way he handled it,” Zalak said.

Police chiefs in towns located within the county feel the same way as Woods regarding communication issues, including Chief Terry Holland of Belleview and Chief Mike McQuaig of Dunnellon.