Thieves wearing medical masks to commit crimes in Waco

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 1:38 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Texans haven’t been required to wear masks for almost a year-and-a-half, however, a specific group of people continue to wear them--not because they’re worried about their health, but because they’re worried about getting caught.

“If a criminal is going to go in and rob or steal something, they’re probably going to be wearing some type of mask, usually it might have been some type of hoodie or something like that,” said Cierra Shipley, Public Information Officer for the Waco Police Department. “But now I think what the COVID pandemic has started, those medical masks are being worn, those criminals are now using them as ways to hide their identity because so many people are wearing these medical masks that they might not be seen as a criminal, they might just be someone who is protecting themselves and others.”

However, businesses in Waco are the ones needing protection, and not from a virus--from thieves.

“Because so many people have been wearing masks and it’s become kind of a more common thing, business owners might not think twice about someone wearing a mask, unfortunately those criminals have been able to use that to their advantage,” said Shipley.

The CDC still recommends people age two and older wear masks in public indoor spaces where the local COVID-19 community threat level is ‘high,’ which McLennan County was ranked as of Monday, according to the CDC website.

However, per order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, since March 10 2021, Texans have been able to be mask-free (minus exceptions along the way for transportation and medical facilities, and schools which challenged the order).

Despite Texas lifting its mask-mandate more than a year ago, Waco PD has dozens of active theft cases where the suspects are wearing pandemic-style face masks.

”Everyone was wearing masks, so I think that’s just kind of how they (criminals) are adapting to the trend that we see here,” said Shipley.

However, even with part of their face hidden, criminals can still reveal a lot, Shipley says.

“They might be wearing a mask but their demeanor might be different,” said Shipley. “You’re going to be able to tell if that criminal is maybe being more reserved, trying to hide or deflect in some way, not being very personable.”

Even with the attempts to use medical masks as a disguise, police say cameras should still be a main line of defense for business owners.

“Even without the pandemic, if a criminal is going to be doing something that they shouldn’t, they’re probably going to be covering their face in some sort of fashion, and cameras are a really great way to help with crime prevention,” said Shipley. “Even though their faces might be covered by a mask of some sort, it’s really good to have that video anyway, detectives are able to take that video and analyze it maybe match it with other videos and hopefully catch those criminals in the end.”

Business owners in Waco can take advantage of a free Waco PD service offering security site visits to talk about improvements, like lighting and locks, which businesses can make to help prevent crime and catch criminals by calling the main line at (254) 750-7500.

Anyone with information on one of the masked suspects Waco PD has put out on social media is asked to contact (254) 750-7500 or Waco Crime Stoppers at (254) 753-4357 where tips can be made anonymously.

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