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‘Our fate is in our hands’; Oxford mandates masks in public and bans police chokeholds

Oxford City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to mandate face coverings in public. The ordinance was labeled as an emergency, which puts the mandate in effect as soon as possible. The decision occurred during a virtual special city council meeting.

The mandate requires masks in any public space in the City of Oxford. Violators are subject to  a $100 fine, which will be enforced by the Oxford Police Department (OPD).

Businesses will not be allowed to enter into transactions with anyone without a mask, and those who refuse to wear a mask could be charged. Employees who interact with the public must wear a face mask.

“Our plan is to only enforce this for the most egregious offenders,” Doug Elliott, city manager said. 

Elliott said if a business refuses to post signage mandating a mask or if customers refuse to wear a mask, he asks that the OPD is called to enforce the mandate. 

Customers who refuse to wear a mask may be charged with criminal trespassing. 

“We’re going to do our very best to educate the public in how important this is,” Elliott said. 

Exceptions to the mandate include medical conditions, those under 6 years old, while eating and drinking and exercising when social distancing is maintained. 

The mandate will expire when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine lifts the state of emergency in Ohio. 

John Jones, OPD police chief, said he wants to caution people from calling the police for individuals who refuse to wear a mask. Instead, police should be focusing on businesses. 

“The business should be enforcing this inside their place,” Jones said. “It’s very similar to ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ Once that person refuses, the business could contact us, and then it’s criminal trespassing if they refuse to leave.”

Councilor Glenn Ellerbe said although he believes that people should be able to decide whether to wear a mask or not, he knows most of Oxford is in the high risk category.

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“As an elected official, we have to protect our town,” Ellerbe said. “The second thing is that we invested quite a bit of money into our business. We want to ensure that those businesses remain healthy and thrive, and if Butler County makes it to level 4, we might not have that opportunity.”

Butler County is currently on a level 3 health advisory which indicates ‘very high exposure and spread.’ Residents are encouraged to limit activities. 

“Our fate is in our hands,” Elliott said. “If we want to continue having Miami University remain open and our economy moving, it’s important for all of us.”

The special meeting also passed an ordinance banning chokeholds by police officers in the City of Oxford. The ordinance also required officers to take reasonable steps to intervene when they see other officers using unauthorized or excessive use of force.  

All councilors with the exception of Edna Southard, voted in favor of the ban. 

“The legislation that we pass as a council should be thoughtful, enforceable and effective and not simply symbolic,” Southard said.

Southard said she believes the ordinance both goes too far in some instances and not far enough in others. 

Ellerbe voted in favor of the ordinance but said he questions the ordinance’s ethicacy.

“A chokehold is actually one of the most humane, unarmed techniques you can employ, when employed correctly, when you are trained correctly,” Ellerbe said. 

Ellerbe said he wants to see more accountability in the use of force. He advocated for documentation of any use of force as well as evidence that showed why the use of force was necessary. 

“When you start removing tools out of an individual's tool box that is meant to protect and preserve order and life and liberties,” Ellerbe said, “what’s going to happen is an officer’s going to have to move up the force continuum. They're not going to move down.”

Councilor Chantel Raghu said she would love to continue talking about ideas proposed by Southard and Ellerbe but that this ordinance is a start. 

“It’s a minimal change for the good apples,” Raghu said. “I think that’s fantastic. What we talked about before at the police oversight committee, is that enforcement redundancy can be a really good thing.”

Jones said that he didn’t favor the ban being an ordinance, but he believes passing it will allow council to answer the public’s requests for police reform. 

“The ordinance is written as such that we can live with this,” Jones said. “It’s not burdening our officers anymore. I think they’re still going to be trained on what is a reasonable use of force.”

The next council meeting will be streamed on YouTube at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 21.