I-TEAM: Are police responding to 911 calls for masks complaints?

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-TEAM has obtained police radio recordings for the first 911 calls with complaints about people not wearing masks following Governor DeWine’s order to help slow the spread of COVID-19, and we’ve found local police are in no hurry to send officers to those calls.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has made masks mandatory in some counties. And, citizens are already turning to the police to turn in people not following the order.

One man called Rocky River Police and said, “I’m looking to find out who is supposed to enforce the mask requirement, about 10 people in the gym out of 150 have their masks on.”

Rocky River police sent an officer to that gym to talk to people, but many police departments are telling citizens to not call 911. Instead of police enforcing this, they argue the county health department should be handing it.

Police in Euclid, Berea, Independence, Solon, Twinsburg and Bedford have all said openly they don’t want emergency dispatchers getting these calls.

“There have been exemptions given for medical reasons. If we get a call, a complaint someone’s not wearing a mask, and you go up to them and they say they have a medical reason, how do we, in fact, know if they have a medical reason or not?” said Bedford Deputy Chief Rick Suts.

The I-TEAM has found Cleveland Police have taken complaints about people at a party not wearing masks, people with no mask at a nightclub, and people going into a downtown shopping and office complex with no mask.

Multiple sources say Cleveland Police have labeled calls about someone not wearing a mask a code 3, a lower priority. Similar to a call from someone coming home to find a burglar had broken in sometime earlier. Records show the response time for those kinds of calls often about 45 minutes.

While calls have been coming in since the Governor DeWine’s order, calls started coming in even in the days leading up to that as the COVID-19 outbreak spiked up again.

Shaker Heights police took a call from a woman saying, “And there’s a group playing baseball they’re not social distancing. They’re breathing hard they don’t have masks on.”

Shaker police say their officers are going to calls about masks to first talk to people about the state order.

The Governor’s office has said local authorities can issue civil penalties or criminal charges with fines up to $750.

We also checked in with the Cuyahoga County Health Department to ask how that agency plans to enforce the order. A spokesman for the health department refused to answer any questions saying the county planned a news conference for Friday afternoon.

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