As recently as December, Democratic New York City Mayor Eric Adams called on residents of the city to wear face masks amid an uptick in viral illnesses.
“With the holiday season in full swing and cases of COVID-19, flu, and RSV rising, we are asking New Yorkers to protect themselves and their loved ones once again,” he said at the time.
Since then, however, stores across the city have seen a spike in robberies by masked individuals — and now the New York Police Department is taking action.
Department Chief Jeffrey Maddrey recently issued an advisory to owners of bodegas and other shops across the city that called on them to require customers to remove masks before being granted entry.
NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey says that businesses should require customers to briefly remove their masks "as a condition of entry" because too many people are allegedly using masks as a way to get away with robbery. https://t.co/Vd8YK4ud35
— Gothamist (@Gothamist) February 28, 2023
“We’re seeing far too often where people are coming up to our businesses, sometimes with masks, sometimes masks, hoods, and latex gloves, and they’re being allowed, they’re being buzzed in and allowed to enter the store and we have a robbery,” he said.
Not only is this a threat to store owners and other shoppers, but Maddrey noted that such face coverings make it much more difficult for police to identify suspects.
“We are asking the businesses to make this a condition of entry, that people when they come in, they show their face, they should identify themselves,” he added.
Given the strict firearms restrictions in the Big Apple, however, some bodega owners believe following the chief’s guidelines could put them at a higher risk of being assaulted or worse.
“We don’t have a weapon to defend ourselves,” said Francisco Marte, who owns a store in the Bronx. “That would be great, everyone come with their face up so the camera can see, we all can see. But we cannot force them to take off the mask.”
Furthermore, some New Yorkers might feel as if they are being treated as potential criminals for following the advice that city officials provided just weeks earlier.
Emmanuel Celestrino is one such local, asserting: “I would say I’d be kind of offended because [wearing a mask is] my own way of feeling safe and I got really used to it through the pandemic.”
One group that represents grocery store owners in the city sent a letter to Adams and Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul to request more robust criminal penalties for repeat offenders, declaring that a “rise in larceny cases has hit independent supermarkets hard.”