|In the Philippines, the national police force also thinks that the mandatory wearing of face masks suits criminals well. / Photo by Justyna M-S via Shutterstock|
Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as social distancing and frequent handwashing, help slow the spread of Covid-19. But the very item used to prevent infection and transmission of the coronavirus is now also giving criminals the “perfect cover” to commit a crime.
Masked criminals, the “new normal”
In Washington State in the US, for instance, there are reports that more crimes have been committed by people wearing face masks. Sgt. Ryan Abbott told Fox 23 News that although it could have been a warning before the pandemic, face-covering has become the new normal and criminals are taking advantage of the situation.
Sgt. Abbott that they are beginning to see the same trend with almost any type of crime one could think of since people can wear face masks wherever they go and nobody would consider it strange. In the city of Auburn, two thieves wearing face masks were caught on CCTV stealing a Mercedes and a rifle. Another man stole from a gas station while wearing two masks and he is now labeled as “wanted.”
Robbers with face coverings also terrorized several stores in California. Gas station owner Elias Khawan said they’re just sitting not knowing who is going to walk through their door. He considers it “horrible” how certain measures for Covid-19 have become the perfect manual or script for robbers. During the incident, the masked criminal pointed a gun at their gas station clerk and the accomplice demanded money.
Khawan added that after the said incident, his staff felt so unsafe that he had to cut their hours at work. Two employees also said they no longer want to work at nighttime. For now, they put signs at the store prohibiting handbags, backpacks, and hoodies.
The difficulty in tracking the suspects
The King County Sheriff’s Office shared that although it created difficulty in tracking the suspects, they are investigating the situation and continue to make arrests for these kinds of crimes. Abbott believes that they can still identify a lot of criminals since they cannot change the way they talk and walk, and their mannerisms, among other things. The only challenge on their part is that the whole process takes a little bit longer than before.
In Chicago’s Cook County Jail, at least 9 inmates died from Covid-19 and hundreds of inmates and correctional officers tested positive. This required staffers and inmates to wear masks every day but the policy helped an inmate escape on May 2, although he was captured a week later.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detective division commander Carlos Marquez said video is less useful to them if they cannot see the face. Masked crimes are now leaving law enforcement with no important crime-solving tool.
Crimes in incognito
California Police Chiefs Association’s president Eric Nuñez also said via local news provider WUSA9 that with everyone in incognito, even the supposed witnesses may not notice individuals acting differently and it makes it difficult to get a good identification or description of the suspect. It is less likely that shoppers would look at someone wearing a mask and make a mental note of what or who they saw.
Tiffany Becker, who manages a convenience store in Pennsylvania, said that it is “scary” since no one can tell who is safe and who is not. Several stores in the area where Becker works have been robbed by masked criminals recently. An FBI agent who investigated a string of robbery cases explained that in the past, it would be suspicious if they found a surgical mask when carrying out a search warrant. However, now almost everybody has latex gloves or masks.
|With their face covered, people become more empowered and enabled to do things they normally would not do in public. / Photo by badnews86dups via Shutterstock|
In the Philippines, the national police force also thinks that the mandatory wearing of face masks suits criminals well. Philippine National Police’s deputy chief for Operations Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar said that the country’s anti-crime preemptive actions have already been mapped out for criminals who may take advantage of the situation to hide their identity.
This challenge is now included in the security measures that the PNP is studying and they want addressed, Eleazar told the Manila Bulletin. Public transportation has resumed in some parts of the country but with limited capacity. In Cebu City, Police Regional Office-Central Visayas (PRO-7) Director Brig. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro said that they cannot just tell somebody to remove their facemask for identification since it is a mandatory health measure during these times.
The eight focused crimes--murder, homicide, robbery, physical injury, carjacking, theft, carnapping of motorcycle, and rape--have significantly gone down during the country’s implementation of enhanced community quarantine.
Global Peace Index
Nonprofit organization Institute for Economics and Peace shared in its Global Peace Index that the safest country in the world this year is Iceland with a 1.072 peace index. The Nordic nation with a small population of 340,000 has a very low level of crime attributed to its strong social attitudes against crime, small population, high standard of living, high level of trust in their highly educated and well-trained police force, and lack of tension between economic and social classes. The country likewise has laws in place to ensure equality, such as same-sex adoptions, same-sex marriage, equal pay for men and women, and religious freedom.
Other safest countries in the world are New Zealand (1.221 peace index), Portugal (1.274), Austria (1.291), Denmark (1.316), Canada (1.327), Singapore (1.347), Slovenia (1.355), Japan (1.369), and Czech Republic (1.375).
On the other hand, risk assessment company Drum-Cussac’s study detailed the most violent countries in 2020 based on categories of political, environmental, medical, infrastructural, and security. These countries include Afghanistan with a 3.574 peace index, Syria (3.566), South Sudan (3.526), Yemen (3.412), Iraq (3.369), Somalia (3.3), Central African Republic (3.296), Libya (3.285), Democratic Republic of Congo (3.218), and Russia (3.093).
Even before the global health crisis, being anonymized had been linked with criminal behavior. With their face covered, people become more empowered and enabled to do things they normally would not do in public. This creates a sense of urgency for law enforcement to rise to the challenge and make a more appropriate response to masked crimes.