It’s been two months since the city of Boise started requiring that masks and face coverings be worn inside all city facilities — and already there’s trouble.
The City Council approved on Tuesday the reallocation of more than $300,000 to hire additional security workers at Boise city libraries, Idaho IceWorld and City Hall, citing a spate of incidents where residents refused to abide by the mask order. Some players and coaches have also refused to wear masks.
On multiple occasions, the Boise Police Department has received calls from city staff members asking for assistance after visitors refused to comply with mask requirements.
Department spokesperson Haley William said that since the order went into effect, police have received four calls from staff members asking for assistance after visitors refused to wear masks: one at City Hall and three at city libraries. She added that there have been more incidents besides those that involved police.
“There is a need for increased security in key city locations due to an increase in observed negative behavior from visitors,” the council’s agenda packet states.
Some city employees quit their jobs from the stress of dealing with mask-related incidents, Human Resources Director Sarah Borden said by phone on Wednesday.
“You don’t want to focus on masks instead of the services we provide,” Borden said. “Employees are human too and just need to feel like they’re safe and secure.”
It’s unclear exactly how many mask-related incidents have happened, but Borden said they were occurring with enough frequency to require the city to step in, although most residents follow the rules. She said security are trained on handling these types of situations.
“Masks are very polarizing,” Borden said. “There are a few that don’t like it, and they’ll let us know that.”
The allocation will also establish a City Hall ambassadors program. The idea will be to eliminate public-facing staff from having to interact or discipline those who refuse to wear masks inside the buildings.
Budget Manager Eric Bilimoria told council members that the allocation will be reevaluated before next year’s budget to ensure the need for more security still exists. He also said the city will see if funds from the American Rescue Plan can be used to fund the security.
It’s unclear how many security guards will be hired with the funds, Borden said.
Mask requirements in Boise have been met with hostility by some area residents since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Lauren McLean issued an order in 2020 requiring masks be worn in most public places. The order was eventually repealed in May after cases declined.
During the mandate, protests sprang up across the city, including large demonstrations at the State Capitol, where protesters burned masks in defiance of the order.
While COVID-19 cases are spiking across Boise, McLean has not reinstated a citywide mandate. She said the requirement for city buildings was to protect the health of employees.