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Masks give would-be criminals another tool at their disposal

But police are ready for them and urge stores to continue being vigilant

BARRIE — A return to masked bandits seems entirely possible during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

But in this case, the reference isn’t to raccoons, but rather would-be thieves and other criminals using the latest tool at their disposal to hide their identities.

In fact, two recent area shoplifters were profiled in media outlets recently sporting masks that other law-abiding citizens are now wearing to keep germs at bay. And this isn't the Wild West of days past where the bad guys wore bandanas over their visages, but right in Barrie.

While Southern Georgian Bay OPP Const. David Hobson declined to comment on the potential for mask use when committing crimes, he noted there hasn’t been any noticeable uptick in shoplifting incidents reported to the detachment.

But Barrie Police communications coordinator Peter Leon said criminals figuring out that masks are an additional item they can add to their dishonest toolbox is bound to happen.

“It’s one of those things that poses a unique challenge to police,” said Leon, who served for years as a media officer while working with the provincial force.

However, Leon said there are other unique ways police can identify offenders if a business or other operation has adequate CCTV coverage.

As an example, he cited a Barrie shoplifter who loaded his items into a pink bag with a watermelon on it. Since the bag was a little bit out of the ordinary, police reviewed tapes from previous days recorded at the same store. From there, they found the offender, but this time he wasn’t trying to hide his identity.

“We unmasked the criminal and now we've got him,” Leon said, pointing out it's important for stores to be vigilant, especially as many begin to reopen. "We’re more than happy to try our best to help out these businesses.”

Another example that involved a perpetrator with a very specific look occurred outside an Alliston Dairy Queen just this week. In that case, the suspect was described in an OPP press release as a white male, early 20s, bald, with "a distinctive Joker tattoo with Batman wings on his right calf."

Leon said that this is definitely a different time for businesses and regular citizens as they now encounter so many people walking around in masks, especially when one lives in a society that normally enjoys socializing and prides itself on being friendly.

“This is a dynamic as a society we have never lived through before,” said Leon, who noted law-enforcement agencies will continue to monitor any increase in masked criminals and continue their efforts to prosecute the offenders.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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