Police officers and downtown ambassadors were dispatched to the 500 block of State Street (above) to enforce the city’s mask ordinance. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Two Santa Barbara police officers and one police captain were dispatched to the 500 block of State Street last Saturday to better educate the public on the legal requirement to wear masks in public spaces where six-foot social distancing is not possible. No citations were written, but 47 warnings were issued, for both not wearing masks and illegal bike riding. Of the 47 interactions, eight reportedly resulted in intensely negative verbal reactions by those approached, including an indeterminate number of F-bombs launched the officers’ way. 

Police public information officer Anthony Wagner stated that the officers — working in tandem with downtown ambassadors attired in red polo shirts and khaki pants — were dispatched to the 500 block of State Street in response to the City Council’s direction the prior Tuesday. At that time, the council voted unanimously to authorize enforcement of the mask requirement—including the issuance of citations, if need be—as a “last resort” and in high-risk areas, but only after all educational approaches had been exhausted. 

The council identified the 500 block of State Street as a priority given the high concentration of bars and restaurants that had expanded their operations out into sidewalk and street “parklets.” Given all the tables and chairs on the street and sidewalks in that block, it’s logistically impossible for members of the public to achieve the six-foot separation required by social-distancing rules adopted in response to COVID-19. 

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According to Wagner, the officers in question had hundreds of interactions with members of the public. Two of the officers—paid out of a Tobacco Enforcement grant—each clocked in more than four hours each. Their supervising captain, Marylinda Arroyo, clocked in 9.5 hours.

In addition to people not wearing masks, the officers enforced a new rule adopted last week that banned anyone from riding their bike on the 500 block of State Street. Concern over clusters of wheelie-popping teens young sparked that bike ban. 

During last week’s council meeting, Councilmember Michael Jordan opined that the riders posed a threat to the safety of pedestrians thronging the street. Based on his firsthand observations, he suggested that certain riders intentionally sought out the most congested block on State Street to display their acrobatic riding skills and exhibited contempt and disdain for the safety of the public.  Jordan suggested that perhaps a stick through the spokes might be in order, sparking Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez to object. 

Of the 47 warnings issued, 18 had to do with bikes, 38 with mask, and four with “other rolling devices,” presumably skateboards. Wagner said two bike riders and six non-mask wearers responded with profanity and hostility to the officers, but that the others either dismounted their bikes or put on masks that had been provided by the red-shirted ambassadors.  

Of the six scofflaws who objected, Wagner said they responded with such vehemence to being required to wear masks that they engendered sympathy for the officers involved by other bystanders. In those instances, Wagner said, the officers persisted in “educating” the non-mask wearers on the public health benefits of wearing masks and the public health perils of not doing so until those refusing to comply “exited the 500 block.” 

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.


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