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Brown takes right approach with troopers

The Oregon State Police troopers who defied Gov. Kate Brown by refusing to wear face masks in a Corvallis coffee shop last week should feel fortunate the governor was in a forgiving mood. Their actions — and a profane denunciation of Brown by one officer — would have been inappropriate even for private citizens patronizing a business during a pandemic. As officers of the law and employees of state government, their refusal to wear masks was inexcusable.

Brown issued the order requiring face masks statewide in indoor public spaces effective July 1 in response to a spike in cases of COVID-19 that followed many counties in the state moving to phase two reopening. Health officials say the combination of cloth face masks, frequent hand washing and maintaining 6 feet of distance from other people are the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus, which is transmitted through airborne droplets from the nose and mouth from sneezing, coughing and breathing. People who are carrying the virus but do not know it because they have no symptoms can avoid spreading it to others by wearing masks.

Those who denounce mask requirements as some kind of infringement on “civil liberties” are deluded and grossly irresponsible. No one objects to being made to wear shirts and shoes to enter businesses. Masks are no different and, in fact, even more important.

And yet, one trooper in that Corvallis coffee shop told the assistant manager that “Gov. Brown has no authority to take our civil liberties.”

“Civil liberties” do not include the freedom to endanger one’s fellow citizens be spreading a contagious and potentially deadly virus. We’re quite positive that trooper would not be persuaded by a drunk driver who declared his civil liberties were being infringed by being stopped and arrested for endangering everyone else on the road.

The trooper was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. Three other troopers who followed him into the coffee shop and also refused to wear masks met with Brown on Friday at the governor’s mansion at her invitation. They wore masks and sat around an outdoor table where they discussed the pandemic and the measures being taken to combat its spread. Brown said the troopers took responsibility for their actions, agreed that face masks save lives and promised to do better in the future.

They are fortunate they were not fired or otherwise disciplined, which would have been justified under the circumstances. We will see what happens to the trooper who cursed the governor in a public place.

Brown deserves praise for turning the situation into a teaching opportunity rather than a confrontation. We hope every state trooper in Oregon, and every city police officer and sheriff’s deputy as well, was paying close attention. Police across the country are under close scrutiny right now for their use of force. Refusing to set an example of responsible behavior as these troopers did hardly inspires public confidence in law enforcement.