Victims of crimes across South Florida for months have been seeing just eyeballs over the top of a mask and not much more, making it a tough job to see who is really behind the mask.
Each day though more people are removing their face coverings, and local police agencies say they’re going to be able to do a much better job when it comes to tracking suspects down. They’ve also got a warning about those with bad intentions who will continue to use the pandemic as cover.
Detectives in Lauderhill have an all-out search on for two killers who were wearing masks when they fatally shot a man while stealing his jewelry. The recent case highlights the challenge victims and officers have faced now for more than a year, but as we more towards the summer, that’s changing.
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In another case earlier this year, one Broward resident saw outside his door a man in a mask. Then police say the masked man starting shooting and wounded the homeowner.
When it comes to the masks, Lauderhill Det. Richard Clarke said it's frustrating for investigators.
"Gives me a major headache. That’s what they do to me," Clarke said.
For 14 months Clarke has been trying to track down those using masks for the wrong reasons. He sympathizes with victims.
"Even if they were to ID someone it could always be questioned and to whether or not they were correct because you didn’t see their face. So, I have had cases with that where it's been questioned even though the witness may say 'I recognized the person, his eyes, his eyebrows, his hair,'" Clarke said.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony echoed what Clarke said about masks and crime.
"Law enforcement has been challenged," Tony said. "It made it difficult for our investigators to ID someone."
Police say they are on the horizon though of being able to track down more offenders due to more people being vaccinated and removing their masks, and a growing number of businesses no longer requiring masks.
"Now they have nothing to hide behind and so they are going to have to find some other means of obscuring their identity, but masks removed is going to be major in helping us fight crime," Clarke said.
Criminals have always used ski masks to conceal who they are, but when it comes to those out to break the law making like they are trying to protect themselves from COVID-19, police say we’re still in for some of that.
"I think it will continue," Tony said.
"Some people undoubtedly will continue to use it because it will be in their interest to do that and they will make some excuse as to medical reasons or fearful that they will be infected,” Clarke said.
Clarke has advice for businesses large and small when a customer in a mask going forward presents a credit card.
"I would encourage merchants or business owners that people remove their masks just to compare their face with any ID that will be presented just for security reasons,” Clark said.
Law enforcement has been saying that during the pandemic the amount of credit card fraud and identity theft had been increasing, and Clarke said anyone who wouldn’t want to remove a mask for just a moment so a merchant to take a look is probably someone the store owner should really check out before allowing the transaction to go through.