New York City police will no longer enforce mask-wearing by the public unless there is "serious danger," Mayor Bill De Blasio announced at a Friday news conference.
The decision comes after criticism of the NYPD this week over a video showing officers handcuffing and pinning down a 22-year old mother who was not wearing a mask properly. The police department has also come under scrutiny over its enforcement of social-distancing policies resulting in a disproportionate number of summonses to people of color.
"Absent a serious danger to the public, NYPD will not take enforcement action for failing to wear face mask covering," the mayor said. "NYPD will continue to enforce the ban on non-essential gatherings, prioritizing dispersing groups of six-plus adults"
An NYPD spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News that the change in enforcement on masks is "essential."
"In this unprecedented pandemic, trust and collaboration is more critical than ever as we all work together to ensure public safety," the statement said.
The video that went viral this week showed that the mother, Kaleemah Rozier, and her child both had masks, but their faces weren't covered during the incident at a Brooklyn subway station, NBC New York reported.
The NYPD said at the time that Rozier "repeatedly refused requests to properly wear her face covering over her nose and mouth" and that officers acted "appropriately and with respect."
The department has also drawn scrutiny over its enforcement of social distancing guidelines after police data showed the vast majority of those receiving summonses were people of color.
The figures showed that officers issued 374 summons from March 16 to May 5, of which 81 percent went to people identified as black or Hispanic. In Brooklyn, 35 of the 40 people arrested on social distancing violations from March 17 through May 4 were black, the district attorney's office said.
Police have strongly refuted any notion of bias in their enforcement.
The NYPD said its officers have had around a million contacts with the public on social distancing, including in parks and with businesses such as pharmacies, bars and restaurants.