It was just a matter of time before people with bad intentions started taking advantage of the common practice of wearing a mask like so many others.
Instead of trying to prevent catching or spreading a virus, they’re using it to conceal their identity and commit crimes. It seems to be the perfect “cover,” so to speak.
The Liberty Headlines has reported that the FBI released information indicating that William Rosario Lopez, 34 years old, was wearing a face mask and a hat when he entered a convenience store in Connecticut, likely blending in with any other customer in the store. He picked up a few grocery and kitchen items and then pulled a pistol on the clerk and robbed the store.
The FBI reported that Lopez did the exact same thing at four other convenience stores over a span of eight days before he was arrested on April 9.
Lopez’ accomplice in the robberies was Solimar Rodriguez Gonzalez, 19 years old. Gonzalez was allegedly a lookout in the robberies, as she is seen on security footage multiple times.
As if the job of most law enforcement agencies wasn’t already tough enough, they’re having to try to identify criminals who have a ready-made and fully accepted disguise to prevent their capture and prosecution.
William Rosario Lopez put on a surgical mask and walked into the Connecticut convenience store looking to the world like a typical pandemic-era shopper. Then he pulled out a small pistol, pointed it at the clerk and demanded that he open the cash register. https://t.co/TccNNvak7A
— WDTN (@WDTN) May 16, 2020
Richard Bell, police chief of Frackville, Pennsylvania, said:
“Criminals, they’re smart and this is a perfect opportunity for them to conceal themselves and blend right in.”
Chief Bell also stated that he knew of seven recent armed robberies in his region and each one of the suspects wore a surgical mask.
As more and more communities, counties, and states began requiring social distancing and prevention measures, increasing numbers of people wearing gloves and masks began showing up in police reports.
“In March, two men walked into Aqueduct Racetrack in New York wearing the same kind of surgical masks as many racing fans there and, at gunpoint, robbed three workers of a quarter-million dollars they were moving from gaming machines to a safe.
“Other robberies involving suspects wearing surgical masks have occurred in North Carolina, and Washington, D.C, and elsewhere in recent weeks.”
The crimes aren’t limited to robberies, either.
In the Cook County Jail in Chicago, one inmate escaped just two weeks ago. Jahquez Scott had been incarcerated on a weapons charge and for violating his bond, had two tattoos on his face. He placed a mask on his face and posed as another inmate who was due to be released, and successfully left the jail. Luckily for the community, he was caught a week later and is incarcerated again.
The FBI announced a $2,000 reward for info that leads cops directly to the arrest the man who escaped from Cook County jail Saturday. But not everyone is on board with efforts to apprehend Jahquez Scott.https://t.co/o2V9P156jE
— CWBChicago (@CWBChicago) May 8, 2020
For many years, law enforcement has relied on surveillance videos to identify suspects.
Carlos Marquez, a detective division commander in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in an email said:
“The video is much less useful if we are unable to see a face.”
U.S. Marshals are assisting with the search for Jahquez Scott who was mistakenly released from Cook County, IL. Jail by impersonating another prisoner who was scheduled for release on bond: https://t.co/6HijHWcWrk
— U.S. Marshals (@USMarshalsHQ) May 7, 2020
Traditional masks aren’t the only covers added to the difficulties in identifying criminals.
On May 6 in Virginia, two men committed larceny at a store called Louisa Sheetz wearing a very unique type of mask: watermelons. They hallowed out watermelons, cut eye holes, and put them on their head to steal from the store. It’s unclear what exactly was stolen at this time.
While, yes, this is admittedly suspicious no matter what pandemic is occurring, it’s still concerning. One of the men was apparently arrested but it appears that one is still outstanding.
— WDRB News (@WDRBNews) May 17, 2020
Another ranking officer from Chicago added to the comments:
“Guys are like, ‘OK, I have to wear a mask, the police are not going to stop me on the way to a crime and back from a crime wearing a mask,’” said Brendan Deenihan, chief of detectives for Chicago Police Department. “Now if you are going to commit a crime you can leave your house with a mask on and drive for an hour.”
The other issue that renders police nearly helpless is that with a mask on, witnesses have a hard time identifying anything about a suspect or even noting suspicious behavior prior to their committing a crime.
Eric Nuñez, chief of the Los Alamitos Police Department in Southern California and president of the California Police Chiefs Association said:
“With everyone basically incognito, would-be witnesses might not notice someone acting differently, and that would make it harder to get a good description or identification of the suspect.
“It’s less likely now that other shoppers would ‘stare at them, just making mental notes of what they look like,’ Nuñez said. ‘If they look like everybody else walking in, they may not do that at all.’”
Another factor to consider with the recommended safety precautions against COVID-19 transmission is the gloves. With people expected to wear gloves in so many places, or at least with it being more accepted currently, there have been less fingerprints at crime scenes. Less fingerprints means less arrests.
FBI Special Agent Lisa MacNamara, who investigated the string of robberies in Connecticut that led to the arrest of Rosario Lopez said:
“In the past if you did a search warrant and you found surgical masks, that would be highly indicative of something (suspicious). Now everybody has masks or latex gloves.”
Law enforcement has sincerely had their job difficulty level increased 100 fold.
Recently, staff writer Gregory Hoyt reported on an increase in crimes in Santa Ana due to face masks being the “new normal.”
Here’s that story again in case you missed it.
Seems to be a bit of correlation between directing nearly everyone to adorn face masks akin to those donned by bandits emblazoned on 19th century wanted posters and the robbery rate. At least that seems to be the case with regard to the city of Santa Ana.
•Armed Robberies On Rise As Suspects Take Advantage Of Mask Mandates… https://t.co/QZoluvtVZY
— NEWS MAKER (@NEWS_MAKER) May 15, 2020
With a 50% uptick in robberies in Santa Ana since the announcement of state Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order delivered in March, it can make one wonder if there happens to be a connection with masks adorned and said robberies.
Elias Khawan, the owner of a local gas station in Santa Ana recounted how one of his clerks was recently robbed at gunpoint by a suspect donning a hat accompanied by an accomplice wearing a face covering:
“We’re sitting here not knowing who’s going to walk through that door.”
Having been the owner and operator of the gas station for some 17 years, he’s noted that the recent times have created dangers unlike anything he’s seen before:
“It’s horrible. I mean, I know we have to take certain measures because of what’s happening with COVID-19, but it’s the perfect script or manual for a robber — the mask, the sunshade and a hoodie. You don’t know who’s coming, who’s walking in.”
— Barry Stagner (@BarryStagner) May 15, 2020
Khawan noted that the gas station used to be open for 24 hours. But, with concerns for his staff’s safety in light of everyone wearing masks these days, he’s changed the operating hours to have the store close at 10:00 p.m.:
“They’re very scared. I have two employees who said, ‘No, we don’t want to work at nighttime.’”
How could anyone blame the employees for their fears? With essentially everyone being encouraged to wear the likes of face masks and coverings, it inevitably creates an emboldening opportunity for those with criminal intent.
Corporal Anthony Bertagna from the Santa Ana Police Department commented that bandana-wearing miscreants are often the ones seen involved in gas station and convenience store robberies:
“It’s the norm. So we’re seeing more [and] more suspects wearing the mask and using that to their benefit.”
While Santa Ana has seen robberies increase, possibly due to the encouragement of everyone being advised to employ a means to cover their nose and mouth, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is telling locals that masks are going to be the new normal for some time.
Los Angeles to require everyone to wear face masks at all times while outdoors | Just The News https://t.co/zhpGZVMsgL
— John Solomon (@jsolomonReports) May 14, 2020
The news was delivered by the governor on May 13th, noting that residents of Los Angeles will have to wear a face mask – with the exception of small children and those toting various disabilities – whenever they’re out and about:
“And as long as you’re not doing a solitary activity or with your own household, put that mask on. Always now.”
That directive must serve as music to a would-be burglar’s ears. We’ve gone from the days when people would be told to remove their Halloween masks on said night when entering stores to now not being allowed to enter stores while partially concealing your identity.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Law Enforcement Today contributor Leonard Sipes was concerned about this very possibility back in early April. Here’s his take on the possible ramifications of the encouraged masks for everyone to adorn that he drafted back on April 5th:
There are endless implications regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. At the moment, crime seems to be holding steady or decreasing while three out of four Americans are under some form of a lockdown. But there is concern in the US and throughout the world regarding the possibility of increasing crime and spouse or child abuse.
Fraud seems to be exploding. A disruption in the world’s illegal drug market could have a profound effect on supply and price and could lead to a rise in crime. Drug treatment is on hold.
Police and correctional officers are becoming infected. People are suggesting that inmates be released. Extremists are viewing the pandemic as an opportunity, Coronavirus And Crime.
But beyond the headlines, there are responses and questions posed by law enforcement and correctional personnel that take the pandemic in different directions.
Masks For Everyone:
A question from a law enforcement representative. President Trump said on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging all Americans to wear masks on a voluntary basis when they leave their homes. Her question is whether criminals will take advantage of the CDC’s suggestion and what that means for victimization?
If everyone is wearing a mask or an improvised face covering, will this embolden criminals to take advantage of the guidance? Will they avoid detection during and after a crime?
There are hundreds of media reports suggesting that jails and prisons release anyone not deemed to be a threat to public safety to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak within correctional facilities. Per multiple media reports, there are facilities and officers with virus issues, Coronavirus And Corrections.
Before the pandemic, violence was rising, Violence.
Will masks and head coverings become an issue? A group of suspected thieves who dressed as FedEx workers to steal goods were all arrested in Connecticut this week — including one of them twice — when residents stuck at home became suspicious and called police. According to The Hartford Courant, police found two unopened iPhones in their car, which the caller said had been stolen from her porch.
After two members of the group were arrested, charged and released, one of them was arrested again, along with an accomplice, that same night. The accused thieves had FedEx shirts and were wearing surgical masks and gloves.
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