Mayor de Blasio said last Friday the city is pulling the NYPD back from mask and social distancing enforcement in all but the most serious cases and the largest events.
De Blasio said more emphasis will be placed on the actions of “social distancing ambassadors,” in the wake of some confrontations between police and residents, according to a transcript of his daily press briefing.
Elected officials from minority communities pointed to large racial disparities among those arrested for mask and social distancing violations.
“So, the reset will be this, we start with the fundamental notion — the NYPD is here to protect lives, to save lives, and where we see the greatest danger to lives in terms of the Coronavirus and the area where we can enforce is around gatherings, particularly large gatherings,” de Blasio said. “So, that’s where we’re going to focus, wanting to give people this clarity. And it’s literally the bigger the gathering, the more that needs to be done by the NYPD to make sure that gathering either never gets started to begin with or is quickly broken up.”
But he said if the city can achieve results in smaller, less chaotic situations with the ambassadors, that would be ideal.
“Summonses are an available tool and they will be given if people do not disperse, but the goal is to not even get to the point of summons, just to make sure that large gatherings don’t happen,” he said. “Large gatherings inherently come with a breakdown in social distancing and the danger of spreading the disease to a lot of people quickly and that’s what we have to guard against. That will be the focus of the NYPD.”
The mayor said the main effort will be on “educating, on encouraging, on providing free face coverings” done by civilian agencies, houses of worship and community groups.
“[T]he NYPD will be out there as well, but its role will be focused again on the positives, giving out those face coverings, giving out reminders to people, helping people to understand what good social distancing looks like,” de Blasio said.
The mayor said there are now 2,260 social ambassadors.
“[T]hat’s a lot of City employees who will be out there educating, giving out face coverings,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of presence this weekend.”
City Hall did not respond to an email requesting information as to whether the ambassadors are being paid or how someone can apply to be one.
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, applauded the move in an email on Friday.
“I commend Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea for resetting mask enforcement which prevents the NYPD from issuing summonses and making arrests for New Yorkers not wearing masks,” Richards said. “I’ve pushed to prohibit NYPD mask enforcement to prevent further exacerbation and division during this pandemic.”
But speaking Monday on NY 1’s “Inside City Hall” — after numerous reports of crowded conditions throughout the city on a seasonably warm weekend — de Blasio told host Errol Louis that the police have not been pulled completely out of the enforcement equation.
“[R]estaurants and cafes where that’s going to fit in the timeline, we’re not there yet,” he said in a transcript provided by his office. “That, you know, anytime you’re talking about gathering people together, we’ve got to get it right in terms of health and safety. But I’m very intrigued — the idea of using outdoor space more, we have to find out the formula to do it safely. What we saw this weekend wasn’t safe, and, again, NYPD, sheriff, other agencies will show up to any bars where people are congregating. When the authorities show up, you better scatter. If you don’t, you’re going to get a summons.”
Speaking during a meeting of Community Board 6, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said she is disinclined to prosecute the summonses, citing, as an example, homeless person who was ticketed in the subway.
“I am of the belief that a health crisis should not turn into a criminal justice crisis,” Katz said. “People should social distance. People should wear masks. When I’m out and I am with people I wear a mask. When I’m just with my family I don’t. The law is either six feet away or wearing a mask. That’s the law. The problem is, it’s interesting to me, the PBA, the sergeants, everyone has stated very publicly they do not want to be out there giving summonses and doing [desk appearance tickets] for social distancing.”
David Russell contributed to this story.