June 12, 2024

Face masks, once an essential Covid-19 protective measure, are now being worn by criminals to conceal their identities, according to New York police who are urging businesses to unmask customers before letting them in stores.

The recommendation is a 180-degree turn from mask-wearing norms at the onset of the pandemic. During peak periods of infection, federal agencies mandated mask-wearing in public places, while many businesses required customers to wear them on the premises.

Now, however, some businesses are banning customers from entering the premises with face masks on, saying the policy change is needed to identify thieves. And after numerous incidents, the New York Police Department is urging business owners to make shoppers remove their face masks and flash their features before being let in.

“We’re seeing far too often where people are coming up to our businesses, sometimes with masks and latex gloves, and they’re being buzzed in, they’re being allowed to enter into the store and then we have a robbery or some kind of property being stolen,” NYPD chief of department Jeffrey Maddrey said recently in an address to the local business community.

A sign in a glass door
A marijuana store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood informs patrons they must show their faces for entry on March 1, 2023

Megan Cerullo

He acknowledged that during the pandemic, most businesses wouldn’t allow patrons to enter stores without masks, and sometimes even gloves.  Pre-pandemic, however, most businesses wouldn’t allow you to walk in there with a mask and latex gloves on, he said.

New York State even recently scrapped a mandate that masks be worn in healthcare settings. 

“Condition of entry”

“We’re asking the businesses to make this a condition of entry: That people, when they come in, they should show their face, they should identify themselves,” Maddrey added. “And if they feel like they want to put their mask on after they identify themselves for their safety, by all means, they should do so.”

The NYPD’s appeal to businesses comes after a “masked up” criminal entered a Queens jewelry store and allegedly made off with $1.1 million worth of property after beating the 79-year-old woman who was watching the store.

“Since the pandemic, this is a way of life for us, where people wear masks regularly. But we’re seeing this being used too much as a ruse, to enter into businesses and to victimize our businesses,” Maddrey said.

He added that businesses can permit customers to don their masks after they’ve identified themselves. 

“It can be a condition of entry that a mask is removed, and once the person is identified, they can put their mask back on for safety,” he said. 

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