Are COVID-19 face masks becoming an 'accessory to crime' in Islamabad?

While people can no longer be on alert because of the covered faces, CCTV cameras are also being rendered useless.

In the pandemic era, wearing face masks has become the new normal. However, criminals are misusing this as a tool to hide their identity and to evade arrest. The hidden face has become a troubling reality for the people as well as law enforcement agencies. It’s hard to pinpoint a criminal when they easily blend with groups of people in public places.

While people can no longer be on alert because of the covered faces, CCTV cameras are also being rendered useless. Face masks Inadvertently help lawbreakers to avoid being captured in the CCTV footage making the police work extremely hard.

APP senior reporter, Ishtiaq Ahmed, narrated his powerless experience:

I was robbed of Rs. 800,000 in Islamabad’s I-8/1 area on September 23rd in broad daylight. If it were a pre-Covid time, by finding veiled people chasing me. I may have been able to identify the culprits but they robbed me and sped away. One had a face mask while the other wore a helmet.

Ishtiaq Ahmed further explained:

The mask provides a perfect cover to the robbers. They can hold up any bank or shop with their covered faces and escape unhindered as the police seldom bother to impound the bikes carrying no or non-standard number plates.

Another masked man robbery incident took place in the federal capital’s I-8 Markaz on September 30th. A man inside a bank intimated his accomplices on the phone when he witnessed a potential target leave a bank with the cash bag. The masked gang robbed the man of Rs. 1.5 million.

Describing the incident, a bank employee said:

Earlier the bandanna or mask was a dicey proposition for criminals. Nowadays, it is familiar but scary too. We can’t distinguish between customers and criminals.

Talking to APP, a senior police officer said:

Though the crime increase has nothing to do with face masks; however, it has made it easier for the criminals to blend in. Under anti-Covid SOPs, a provision could be created to allow security staff outside banks or malls to ask visitors to remove face masks at the entrance to enable cameras to capture the face. Moreover, other than face coverings, criminals or suspected people could also be singled out through their body language, movement, or confidence when questioned.

Criminals donning surgical masks have become a global issue. Many countries are pondering revising SOPs or making specialized security arrangements to keep the criminals from entering establishments. Methods to prevent this are being considered.

Some countries have installed vestibules, high-quality cameras, and identification software that can recognize the face behind the mask. In contrast, other countries like America have guided people to note specific traits (shoes, jacket brand, belt, socks color, face scars, or tattoos) of the criminals to make identification easy and help further the crime investigation.

What are your thoughts on this? Please share with us in the comment section below.

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