Mask wearing sporadically enforced among nation's major police departments: Analysis

Officers have a "responsibility" to cover their faces, some say,

With major protests against police violence and racial inequality still ongoing in many American cities amid the coronavirus pandemic, health experts have urged protestors to wear a mask and stand six feet apart when possible.

Now, a growing number are calling for police officers to wear masks and practice social distancing, noting that police, too, have a responsibility to help stop the spread of the virus.

An ABC analysis of nine of the nation's largest police departments finds scattershot and randomly enforced policies around mask wearing. While some major police departments across the country require their officers to wear masks and gloves at protests, these policies are not rigorously enforced.

And anecdotal evidence from various cities suggests some portion of officers are choosing to forgo face coverings, including in New York City, where numerous photographs have emerged of unmasked officers interacting with protestors at crowded rallies.

Earlier this month, New York's governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City's mayor Bill De Blasio both implored officers to cover their faces.

"Some of them say that they can't breathe, or it blocks their vision. I understand that," Cuomo said. "But my advice and the Health Commissioner's advice is to wear masks, and I think that the Police Department should communicate that to the police."

It's a pattern playing out in multiple cities that infectious disease experts say could contribute to a rise in COVID-19 cases by putting officers and protestors at risk.

"We have a lot of people who are close together during these protests who are talking, singing and yelling," says Emory University's associate professor of Infectious Disease Dr. Jay Varkey.

Police officers are shown on June 15, 2020, during a Black Lives Matter Protest near NYPD headquarters in New York.
Billy Tompkins/ZUMA Press via Newscom

"When law enforcement wear masks during a pandemic, it shows respect for the public and fellow police officers," Varkey said, adding officers have a "responsibility" to cover their faces.

ABC News reached out to nine police departments across five states, including those in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, as well as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, where some of the largest protests have taken place.