SHELBYVILLE, Ind. Feb 5 2021— The official title is compliance officer. That’s what it says across the back of the polo shirts of the employees who work for Bloomington-based Security Pro 24/7.
The “mask police” as they are known around Shelby County were hired to help the nine-person health department with the mask mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are so short on staff that I can’t get people out in the field,” said Robert Lewis, Shelby Country Health Department director. “We were getting so many complaints.”
Those complaints focused on people not wearing masks and not social distancing at businesses. So “rent-a-cops” became the “mask police” canvasing restaurants, bars, box stores and other businesses in Shelby County.
“In private security, people call you all kinds of names,” said James Whitmer, Security Pro 24/7 director of client partnership and development. “I think in the end, we look at this as, ‘it’s OK as long as the restaurants and establishments are able to stay open.’ Call us whatever you’d like. We want to make sure that the compliance is there. But again, it’s really about people’s health.”
Shirley Bailey has owned the Chaperral Cafe in downtown Shelbyville for 51 years. She calls the compliance officers the “mask boys.”
“Whenever they stop by, they’ll come in and tell us who they are, which I normally know who they are,” Bailey said. “They’re good boys. They really are. And they do a fine job. The board of health, they cannot take care of everybody. I realize that.”
Outside of town, Tessie Hagerman has owned the Country Diner for about 25 years. Compliance officers stop in every few days.
“I’m not sure I agree with the money spent on the program,” Hagerman said. “But I understand where the local health department’s coming from. It’s a big area to cover for just the very few people that they have employed.”
The compliance officers have no enforcement authority.
“These guys go out and they are there for education only,” Lewis said. “That’s all they’re doing is helping us on compliance on educating people.”
Hagerman said she has not had a problem with the compliance officers or her loyal breakfast and lunch customers.
“I have some people say, ‘They can’t enforce that.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you may be right, but I can’t afford a lawyer to fight them.’ So, we’re going to do what they want us to do until it’s over and then we’ll be back to regular business,” Hagerman said.
Security Pro 24/7 started working in Shelby County in mid-December and is under contract through the second week of February. The company has been working even longer in Monroe County with similar compliance education.