After hearing from some residents who voiced frustration that the topic hadn’t been discussed, the Burbank City Council will review the possibility of fining people who don’t adhere to face covering requirements.
Council members Emily Gabel-Luddy and Timothy Murphy led the push during the panel’s Tuesday meeting to return a report on the subject to the agenda. The matter is scheduled to be discussed when the council next meets on Sept. 15.
The report, drafted by the Burbank Police Department, had been placed on the agenda before the council’s Aug. 11 meeting after Councilman Jess Talamantes requested it. But when the meeting began, Talamantes abruptly pulled the item, later saying he “didn’t feel it was the right time to discuss it.”
The idea of enforcing municipal mask policies with a fine has gained traction among some local residents who claim they’ve seen many people in Burbank in public spaces not wearing the coverings. An online petition recently created by Burbank resident Brooke Purdy has gained more than 500 signatures in support of a fine-enforced mandate.
Purdy, who told The Leader earlier this month that she has avoided the Chandler bike path because of the numbers of people there who don’t wear face coverings, told council members during public comment Tuesday that she has heard reports from other people making similar claims.
“I’m wondering when the right time to save Burbank citizens from a worldwide pandemic will be,” she said during the meeting. “The signs that you have been posting on the Chandler bike path since April are ignored and useless. … At this point, they are also insulting and ridiculous.”
After Purdy’s comments, Gabel-Luddy and Murphy expressed interest in returning the report to the agenda, though they held back from discussing the issue since it was not on that meeting’s agenda. Murphy gave an official request to city staff members at the end of the meeting to bring back the item.
Talamantes also responded to Purdy, assenting to what she had said.
“‘If not now, when?’” he repeated. “I agree with you.”
THE ACT OF ENFORCEMENT
Though the report’s presence at the next council meeting seems certain, what is not known is whether the panel will institute a fine. Currently, the Police Department’s approach has been to emphasize education as a means of getting people to comply with health orders, using social media and other platforms to disseminate information.
“As far as the challenges, it’s not always a guarantee that citizens understand when and where masks are required,” Sgt. Derek Green, a spokesman for the BPD, said in an email. “Regulations and ordinances change often, which is why we have always focused on educating. Should an enforcement ordinance/fine be adopted, police officers would still have discretion.”
The Aug. 11 report submitted to the council said that out of the 16 calls related to COVID-19 concerns and activities the BPD received in June and July, only four referred to people not wearing face coverings. The department will submit a new report with some updates and clarifications for the council’s next meeting.
Kaila Olander of the Glendale Police Department, which began issuing fines to enforce the city’s face covering mandate in July, said that while police have issued some citations, their main goals are “education and compliance.”
That emphasis was something also noted by Detective Peadar Sullivan of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, which services another of the California cities that have sought to enforce face covering requirements with fines. More people have been wearing face coverings since the mandate was given, Sullivan said.
Sullivan also said that while deputies have issued some tickets because of the ordinance, the threat of the fine is usually enough to encourage people to wear masks.
“In essence, we’re really not trying to write tickets,” he said in a phone interview.
Police enforcement of face coverings is opposed by the Burbank Police Officers’ Association, according to an email sent by the union’s board of directors to the City Council. The email, a copy of which was obtained by The Leader, highlights concerns that enforcement by police could lead to escalation if a person refuses to cooperate, potentially raising the risk of a dangerous encounter.
“Is the city prepared to defend the actions of its law enforcement officers when the public narrative focuses on the need for such force just to enforce an administrative violation?” the email asked.
The BPOA Board of Directors also said the department is understaffed and having officers take on this extra responsibility would not be “a prudent use of resources.”
But Purdy said in a phone interview that she doesn’t care who enforces the mandate — only that it is enforced. She also said that she doesn’t care whether people wear masks at home, but that they need to abide by health guidelines when in public areas.
“I’m just trying to handle things here at home, on the bike path that me and my family can’t use anymore because our City Council won’t protect us,” she said.