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Spokane police officers don't always wear masks. Here's why

Sgt. Terry Preuninger with the Spokane Police Department said there are a "myriad of reasons" why an officer will or will not wear a mask.
Patrol car.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Some Spokane police officers are not wearing masks while on the job, which has prompted concerns from residents.

Face coverings became mandatory in public places throughout Washington state beginning June 26. 

A viewer recently sent a photo to KREM that shows an officer conducting what appears to be a traffic stop without wearing a mask. In response, KREM reached out to the Spokane Police Department regarding its policy on masks. 

Sgt. Terry Preuninger told KREM that there are a "myriad of reasons" why an officer will or will not wear a mask. There are some instances, he said, where an officer may not wear a mask because it could prohibit their ability to communicate effectively. 

Officers may also avoid wearing masks if they anticipate the need to make physical contact with someone.

"It could be they anticipate taking them out of the car and putting them in handcuffs or it could be the person said, 'Officer, I don’t understand what you’re saying,'" Preuninger explained. 

RELATED: COVID-19 has killed more police officers than any other reason combined in 2020

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries published guidance on its website regarding masks for law enforcement officers. 

It states that, as a general rule, officers should wear cloth face coverings when they are not working alone. Officers should wear masks when interacting with the public, too, but "other public safety concerns may necessitate removing the mask for improved communication or to avoid the mask being a hazard."

Under the guidance, masks must be worn when two officers are in the same car and when officers are in a station house or other administrative building with frequent in-person interactions.

Some officers in Spokane also have medical exemptions to the statewide mask mandate, Preuninger said.

"There could be times when cops should have them on when they’ve forgotten or chosen not to, but there are a lot of legitimate reasons officers would not be wearing masks," Preuninger said. 

Employees with a medical issue who are requesting accommodation must provide their employer with a written statement from their medical provider "specifying that a face covering or mask should not be worn due to their present health condition," according to L&I guidance. Employers cannot allow the employee to work without a mask with no other mitigations or accommodations.

Staff within SPD have tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined themselves, but the department has not identified any large outbreaks, according to Preuninger.

RELATED: CDC Director: Masks may be better guaranteed COVID-19 protection than vaccines