Houston - The President of the Houston Police Officers’ Union (HPOU) is voicing concerns over the city’s new mandatory mask mandate for municipal workers.
"Our officers should not be forced, or mandated, to wear the masks," said HPOU President Douglas Griffith. "We believe our officers can do without it. The citizens aren’t wearing them. It’s not going to do us any good. Most of our officers have been vaccinated."
The mask mandate for Houston municipal workers went into effect Wednesday. The city order requires all municipal workers to wear masks, fully vaccinated or not.
"I think the steps are taking as a city will be saving peoples’ lives," said Mayor Sylvester Turner Wednesday.
Although the city’s mask mandate went into effect this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order in July that placed a ban on government-issued mask mandates.
"We’re past the timed of government mandates," said Governor Abbott in July. "We’re in the time for personal responsibility."
"This is a political battle between the mayor and the governor," said Griffith. "To be honest, we feel like pawns in the middle of this."
At last check, 89 Houston municipal workers, 40 firefighters, and 68 police officers had COVID-19.
A spokesperson for Mayor Turner says the new mask order for municipal workers is intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"Mayor Turner believes Houston Police Officers are essential public servants," said Mary Benton, a spokesperson for Turner. "By some accounts, less than half of the HPD officers are vaccinated against COVID-19. Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated will help slow the spread of the virus, keep officers from getting sick, and ensure they are ready to respond to needs in our community."
"We’re dealing with people in our backseat," said Griffith. "They’re within a foot of us, 2 feet of us most of the time. That little cage isn’t going to protect you from COVID. The mask isn’t going to protect you from COVID."
City Attorney Arturo Michel provided the written statement below.
"The Governor’s order exceeds his limited authority under the Texas Disaster Act in a variety of ways," said Michel. "In particular, the Governor has no authority to suspend the disaster authority of local governments that the Legislature has expressly given them. The City also interprets the Governor’s order to limit the City’s ability to regulate the general public during a declared disaster, not to encompass or limit the City’s rights as an employer to establish reasonable and necessary workplace safety rules for its employees. The mask requirement is consistent with CDC guidance, provides a safe workplace for City employees, including first responders, and will, therefore, minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and other adverse effects the City and its employees have experienced during this pandemic."
Griffith says the issue has been handed over to the Texas Attorney General. We reached out to the Governor’s office for comment Friday afternoon but haven’t heard back.
"We can walk in and be shot in the line of duty tomorrow, or we could get COVID tomorrow," said Griffith. "It’s the chance we take doing this job and being out in the public."