Enforcing masks indoors: Businesses are off the hook this time. What will suburban police do?

  • Illinois' mask mandate returns Monday, but this time businesses won't face fines if they fail to get scofflaw patrons to wear masks. Suburban police have a variety of approaches.

    Illinois' mask mandate returns Monday, but this time businesses won't face fines if they fail to get scofflaw patrons to wear masks. Suburban police have a variety of approaches. Associated Press File Photo/Aug. 26

 
 
Updated 8/27/2021 6:07 PM

Illinois' mask mandate returns Monday with one big change for businesses: This time, they won't face fines if they fail to get scofflaw patrons to comply.

"That's a significant change for us," said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. "That's a relief to our members that the enforcement expectation is not on the retailer."

 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's previous statewide mask mandate, which ended in June, threatened to fine businesses up to $2,500 if they repeatedly failed to require customers to wear masks. The new executive order issued Thursday makes no mention of enforcement requirements or penalties for noncompliance.

Karr said many business owners are relieved they don't have to be the enforcers of the mask edict any longer. They noted local police were generally unhelpful when workers called to complain about noncompliant customers.

"Unless there was a threat to welfare, most of our members said the response from police was largely, 'What do you want us to do?'" he said.

The policy regarding mask enforcement at each police department is different.

"We do not enforce mask mandates," Naperville police Cmdr. Michaus Williams said. "If a business calls over a customer refusing to leave the establishment for not wearing a mask, it becomes a trespass issue and we will respond."

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But in other locations, like Elgin, police will handle mask enforcement calls, if necessary.

"We will respond to all complaints," Elgin Deputy Chief Adam Schuessler said. "We will go there to educate people on the executive order, document the incident so there's a written record, which is how we've handled it throughout the pandemic."

Officers won't be posted outside businesses reminding customers to wear their masks before entering, Elgin Police Chief Ana Lalley said. Ultimately, Lalley said, following the mask mandate is about good citizenship.

"It's a lot of just making sure that we're just looking out for each other, and being respectful to each other, and taking care of each other," she said.

While police officials said calls to businesses for mask scofflaws were rare, Karr said there were a number of events over the past year and a half at businesses that did require police intervention.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We documented a couple dozen cases, and I recall you got your fair share in the suburbs because there was no region of the state that didn't have some experience with this," he said. "There were reports of fights, produce being thrown at workers and other customers, a knife was pulled, someone threatening to go to their car and get a gun. Thankfully, we didn't have the tragedies that happened in other states."

Karr was referring to cases where store employees or customers were killed in confrontations over masks in states like Michigan, Georgia and New Mexico.

Business owners, Karr said, are urged to post signs at all entrances and remind customers about the mandate if they aren't wearing a mask.

"If you have a public address system, utilize it," he said. "After that, you've done your job."

Police acknowledge customers might be frustrated by the reintroduction of masking indoor at businesses, but they certainly don't expect a wave of calls about unruly customers.

"Everyone's been through this before," said South Barrington Police Chief Tom Roman. "It's old news for everyone."

• Daily Herald staff writers James Fuller and Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.

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