NYC law enforcement urges residents to remove masks when entering stores

Jahlil Rush, Production Assistant

The New York City Police Department called on local business owners to encourage customers to not wear facial masks when entering stores, amid growing concerns of robberies throughout the city.

Jeffrey Maddrey, who serves as the chief of department at the NYPD, spoke about the announcement during a March 1 press conference. He reminded the public that the idea is not a new concept.

“People, when they come in, should show their face,” Maddrey said. “They should identify themselves. If they feel like they want to put their mask back on after they identify themselves, for their safety, they should do so.”

Additionally, he said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners would ask customers to unmask before entering their business.

“Pre-pandemic, most businesses wouldn’t allow you to walk in there with a mask and latex gloves on,” Maddrey said. “But since the pandemic, this is a way of life for us, where people are wearing masks regularly. But we’re seeing this being used too much as a ruse, to enter into businesses and to victimize our businesses.”

The idea was proposed just two days before a man wearing a white full-body hazmat suit and a black face mask killed a 67-year-old clerk at Daona Gourmet Deli in the Upper East Side during a night-time robbery on March 3.

The Upper East Side deli shooting was part of a recent string of robberies that started on Feb. 25 and involved the same suspect, the NYPD said.

Police arrested a suspect in the fatal robbery case after receiving a tip on March 5.

Data collected by the NYPD showed that robberies have risen in the city within the last year, Gothamist reported. The city reported exactly 17,411 robberies in 2022. The last time the city exceeded 17,000 robberies was 2013.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams called for the idea during an interview on the 1010 WINS radio station. He was questioned about the NYPD’s recent crime statistics, which showed that major crimes are down but shoplifting is on the rise.

“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 said. “And then once they’re inside, they can continue to wear it 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.”

Concerns about the surge in robberies, especially after the March 3 shooting, instilled fear among many bodega owners. Francisco Marte, a Bronx bodega owner and a victim of robbery, told ABC7 Eyewitness News that he fears the suggestion of telling customers to unmask.

“We don’t have a weapon to defend ourselves,” Marte said to the news outlet. “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.”

United Bodegas of America Founder Fernando Mateo said people who are concerned about their health can show their faces briefly and then put the mask back on before they shop. Mateo did not call for bodega owners to be armed, but he called for more protection.

“For those that want to maybe criticize what we are asking for, we invite them to come work one day or one night in a bodega and live what these people are living so that they understand we are not trying to pick on anybody,” Mateo said in a news conference, as reported by Gothamist. “We are just trying to get back home alive and safe to our families.”

Some people were concerned about catching COVID-19 if the NYPD’s recommendation goes into effect. Jean Ryan, who serves as the president of the civil rights organization Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York, said the removal of masks in stores is not a choice for her.

“I will not comply,” Ryan said, according to AM New York. “I need a mask to protect myself from COVID and other diseases because I am in a high-risk group.”

Back in February 2022, New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the indoor mask mandate for businesses would be lifted. It signaled that the state was emerging from the pandemic and nearing normal.

Maddrey emphasized that store owners can still allow customers to wear their masks for safety after identifying themselves upon entry.