The public health directive urging people to wear face coverings in public appears to have had an unintended impact: Crimes in which the suspect was wearing a mask have increased nearly fivefold.
From Jan. 1-Oct. 31, there were 1,164 criminal incidents in which a suspect was wearing a mask, according to Los Angeles Police Department data. During the same time period last year when there were just 200 reports.
Don’t expect the trend to reverse itself soon. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom tightened the directive even more, requiring people to wear face coverings when they are outside. Though not everyone has been complying with the order, a good number of crime suspects apparently have been. The sharp rise in mask-wearing suspects comes as overall crime has fallen by 10%. Robbery and burglary–two categories commonly associated with mask-wearing perpetrators–decreased by 15% and 12%, respectively.
The proliferation of mask usage in criminal reports began in March, when the coronavirus started spreading rapidly across Los Angeles and elected leaders and health officials ordered the shutdown of many businesses. That month there were 56 reports of mask-wearing suspects, more than double the monthly average.
Then the numbers began soaring: There were 168 in April, 188 in May and a high of 205 reports in June. Figures have diminished since then, but there continues to be more than 100 reports of a mask-wearing suspect in the city each month.
Reports of crime suspects wearing masks, 2019 vs. 2020
According to the LAPD, 27% of incidents involved some type of burglary, while robbery or attempted robbery accounted for 22% of the reports. Nearly 11% involved assault, including with a deadly weapon.
Every neighborhood on our top 10 list in Los Angeles has seen an increase. That includes Hollywood, which did not have a report of a mask-wearing suspect in the first 10 months of last year. This year, the police recorded 27 incidents in the neighborhood.
The Westlake neighborhood had the greatest number of mask-wearing suspects, with 61; that marks a 1,933% increase from last year when there were only three reports. Koreatown had 59 reports, up from five during the same time last year.
Crimes where a suspect wore a mask should not be confused with suspects who wore a ski mask (the LAPD has a separate identifier for them). During the first 10 months of the year, there were 62 reported cases of a suspect wearing a ski mask, down from the 87 incidents during the same time last year. The LAPD does not yet have a category for “suspect refused to wear a mask.”
If you are diligently wearing a mask to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, use one that stands out so you are not mistaken for a suspect. Officer Drake Madison, a public information officer for the LAPD, said the department still uses masks as a form of suspect description, but acknowledged that facial identifications from the nose down are difficult. However, if a suspect is wearing a unique mask that stands out, it makes a person easier to identify.
How we did it: We examined publicly available crime data from the Los Angeles Police Department from Jan. 1- Oct. 31, 2020 compared with the same time period last year.
LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.
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