It's been less than two weeks since Miami-Dade County announced it would be fining people for not wearing masks in public. Already, Florida media outlets are filled with stories of people cited for wearing masks improperly, lowering masks to sip a drink, or removing their face coverings once outside of a store.
On Thursday, the Miami Herald reported that the Miami-Dade Police Department has issued 162 citations for violating the county's mandatory mask ordinance, which comes with a $100 penalty.
One woman, Johanna Gianni, says she removed her mask in the parking lot of a Publix grocery store in North Miami Beach, when a police officer approached her and wrote her a ticket for not wearing a mask. Gianni told the Herald the parking lot was nearly empty and that she felt set up by police.
She's not the only one.
The ABC affiliate Local10 reports that Dean Gonzalez was fined while leaving a North Miami Beach Publix because his mask didn't cover his nose. The encounter was captured on video; in it, an officer can be heard telling Gonzalez that improper mask usage is as bad as not wearing a mask at all. Gonzalez accused the cops of setting up a "mask trap" and said that they threatened him with arrest if he didn't sign the ticket he was issued.
The Herald article includes several other examples of people being fined while wearing masks, including a customer at a barber shop who lowered his mask to take a sip of water right as a police officer entered the business.
NBC Miami reports that Miami-Dade police conduct 500 random compliance checks each day to enforce the county's public health ordinance.
The Herald also identified one Wawa convenience store where eight people were cited over two days for not wearing masks, suggesting that police are indeed setting up "mask traps."
Mask mandates have proliferated across the United States as a way of combating the spread of COVID-19. Police are often empowered to enforce these rules through fines and even arrests. Enforcement varies between jurisdictions, however, with some communities aiming for voluntary compliance.
Miami-Dade County appears to be among the most aggressive enforcers of its mask mandate. The Mercury News reports that in San Francisco, another large city with a mask mandate, police have issued 26 citations for violating that city's emergency health order.
One could make a libertarian case for government mask mandates during a pandemic, on the grounds that no one has an inherent right to cough deadly pathogens on another person. But that theoretical case has to be weighed against the reality of policing in America, where cops frequently resort to petty and overaggressive enforcement.
To judge from these reports in Miami, the pandemic has done little to change how such officers go about enforcing the law.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.