5/31/20 George Floyd Lafayette Protest, John Dennis

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis pats a protester on the back during a protest in late May.

A week after Indianapolis announced its mask requirement for all residents set to begin Thursday, the West Lafayette mayor is hoping to write up a mask requirement for local residents by the end of this week, he said.

“I feel fairly positive that we’ll probably have, fingers crossed, some type of decision made yet this week,” Mayor John Dennis said during Monday evening’s city council meeting. “It gets down to what we’re in a position to mandate.

“In West Lafayette, we see a lot of compliance with masks, but then we also see a lot of folks that aren’t paying attention to social distancing.”

Dennis noted that any mask requirement would need to have some teeth to it, otherwise the policy would fail because of insufficient enforcement. Specific provisions will need to address appropriate types of facial coverings and potential fines for noncompliance, he said.

Although Dennis said there was no resistance from Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski or Tippecanoe County commissioners, he expects a decision to require facial coverings will be made when the politicians agree unanimously. He said, however, that he would be willing to independently require the policy should discussions fail this week.

The mayor also said he’s been involved in numerous conversations with Purdue administrators, who have been willing to include the city in their discussions. Purdue will require all students to wear masks in campus buildings and public spaces where sufficient distance cannot be maintained.

Describing it as “a little Boy-Scout-esque,” Dennis nonetheless outlined his belief in the Protect Purdue Pledge, the honor code requiring masks, and the implication that students who break it will be subject to discipline through the Office of the Dean of Students.

“They’ve got a lot invested in this,” Dennis said. “and I don't think they wanna see it fall flat. Cases are on the uprise again, I mean they're shooting up."

The mayor said the hope is that the University is paying attention and willing to adjust to those rising numbers.

“This isn't horseplay, this isn't a game,” he said. “It won't go away until we get a vaccine.”

The council also discussed the MRAP, a vehicle that recently became a target of local complaints as residents — and city councilors Peter Bunder and Nick DeBoer — ask for the West Lafayette Police Department to relinquish its ownership of the vehicle.

Dennis addressed local concerns by explaining the device’s largely defensive purposes.

“A lot of people have found that inanimate object to be offensive,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

DeBoer disagreed, saying the military symbolism of the vehicle is enough to warrant its removal. He questioned whether its usefulness outweighs the negative sentiment it conveys to residents.

“Defend against what?” he asked. “Against the people? I think we should get rid of the vehicle, and I will be doing what I can as a city councilor to make sure we don’t have armored vehicles in the city from the military.”

DeBoer’s comments were met with silence from councilors and Dennis, but West Lafayette Police Chief Troy Harris expanded on the mayor’s view that ire shown toward an inanimate object is misdirected.

He noted the vehicle has been used sparingly, and only in active shooter or other emergency situations. Its purpose, he said, is to lower the risk that officers are killed or injured while assisting the community during violent encounters.

"If you really wanna promote change, let's not focus on a vehicle,” Harris said. The meeting moved on to councilors Thomas’ and Parker’s next steps to develop policy recommendations for WLPD to consider as it’s pressured to reform, a task specifically delegated to them by fellow councilors.

Before the discussion ended, DeBoer directed his parting remarks at Harris, who had earlier offered his time for councilors and others to sit down with him to discuss ways to combat the department’s racial disparities in hiring and to fund social service organizations to work alongside police.

“Symbols are important," DeBoer said. "Chief, I'll take you up on your offer and begin having a conversation about this vehicle and see where things go from here."

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