Mayor Eric Adams says that city businesses should require patrons unmask as a condition of entry in order to deter robberies, by ensuring people are recognizable on surveillance cameras.
The comments echo those made by top police officials even as the NYPD acknowledges retail theft is on the decline.
While the calls are just that, and don’t carry the force of law, they nonetheless represent an extraordinary new phase of city policy towards the COVID-19 pandemic, likely the first time in three years officials suggest in some capacity that New Yorkers take off their masks. New York eased most of its mask mandates in the past year, but has mainly left masking up to personal discretion.
The mayor made the remarks during a radio interview on 1010 WINS Monday morning.
“We are putting out a clear call to all of our shops, do not allow people to enter the store without taking off their face mask,” Adams told Susan Richard of 1010 WINS. “And then once they’re inside, they can continue to wear if they so desire to do so. But we need to use the technology we have available to identify those shoplifters and those who are committing serious crimes.”
Echoing comments made last week by the NYPD’s Chief of Department, Jeffrey Maddrey, the mayor said that too many no-goodniks are using masks not to protect themselves from the coronavirus, but to evade detection by surveillance cameras, store employees, and the police.
“When you see these mask-wearing people, oftentimes it’s not about being fearful of the pandemic, it’s fearful of the police catching them for their deeds,” Adams said. “And we’re really putting the call out.”
Asked whether this puts the onus of crimefighting on business owners, Adams said the NYPD is “beefing up” its presence in “high shopping areas.” He also noted that when they’re off-duty, NYPD officers can go on “paid detail,” where businesses pay the department to have uniformed officers provide security. Unlike traditional security guards, off-duty cops can make arrests.
Following the comments by Chief Maddrey last week, Hizzoner’s press secretary Fabien Levy dismissed the notion that such calls by the mayor and NYPD amount to a “slippery slope” towards banning masks, instead comparing them to the Transportation Security Administration requiring travelers briefly unmask in airport security lines.
Adams called shoplifting a “national phenomenon” and said his administration plans to roll out new policies in partnership with major retailers to deter theft.
That’s despite the fact that on Friday, at a public safety briefing held by Deputy Mayor Phil Banks, the administration touted a more than 10% drop in shoplifting complaints year-over-year. February saw 4,276 complaints of shoplifting citywide, compared to 4,757 in February 2022.
Michael Lipetri, the NYPD’s Chief of Crime Control Strategies, told reporters that robberies are down 19%, grand larcenies are down 11%, and petty larcenies are down 10%.
Many national retailers took significant steps in recent years to curtail the supposed epidemic of retail theft, with pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens opting to lock up much of their merchandise behind plastic partitions to deter “organized shoplifting,” despite little evidence of such a widespread phenomenon.
Earlier this year, a top executive at Walgreens said the company had “cried too much” over the specter of shoplifting and its impact on business, questioning the wisdom of the company’s novel security measures.
Decades-high inflation in the pandemic era has caused the price of goods to soar: the US dollar’s purchasing power has declined by 10% since 2021, according to an analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
COVID-19, meanwhile, has killed over 45,000 New Yorkers in the past three years. 524 New Yorkers were hospitalized with COVID and 69 were in the intensive care unit on March 2, according to state data.
Following Maddrey’s comments last week, some immunocompromised New Yorkers — who face an increased risk of serious complications or death from COVID-19 — expressed frustration at the administration’s approach.
“This is unacceptable and puts people’s lives in danger,” wrote Mandate Masks US, a group advocating for the reinstatement of mask mandates in New York and elsewhere, on Twitter.
Jean Ryan, president of Disabled In Action of Metropolitan NY and a wheelchair user, told amNewYork Metro that she and many others can’t simultaneously open a door and take off a mask. She also questioned whether people intending to rob a store would comply with such directions from store proprietors anyway.
“Not everyone is able to lower their mask and put it back on again. I have friends with those capabilities,” said Ryan, who previously told amNewYork Metro that she wouldn’t comply with an unmasking directive. “Why don’t the police say stop robbing? If people won’t stop stealing, do you think they will lower their mask? I personally cannot lower my mask while simultaneously going through a doorway. Who knows where the cameras are?”
Ryan argued that the mayor’s notion of public safety should also include public health, not just deterring crime. “I think public safety can include both wearing masks to prevent disease as well as preventing violence in bodegas,” she noted.