Philly police officers at Marconi Plaza during a June rally sparked by the Columbus statue

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Why aren’t Philly police officers wearing masks?

It’s a question that’s been posed by plenty of city residents over the past several months, including people attending protests, where they’ve noted masks lacking on officers patrolling the demonstrations.

Mayor Jim Kenney last week issued an executive order mandating mask-wearing when outdoors in the city, making official a longtime recommendation from health experts. The Philadelphia Police Department has required all officers to wear face masks while on the job since on April 8.

Yet many photos and videos show local law enforcement bucking the requirement. City officials have seen it too.

“It is something we’ve noticed,” Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director, said Tuesday. “[PPD officers] have been reminded on a number of occasions.”

Abernathy admitted the refusal to wear masks among some officers is a concern. He said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has issued multiple directives through police ranks to encourage officers to cover their face. Those who continue refusing to comply likely will not be punished.

“I think we don’t want to get to that point,” Abernathy said. “We’ll continue to work with our officers to make sure they’re protecting themselves, their colleagues and the public.”

Philly is one of several cities where police officers have been criticized for refusing to don face coverings.

In New York, the NYPD protocol states law enforcement agents must comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s orders to wear masks — but police officers were repeatedly photographed at protests without them. Same thing in Chicago, where officers have been seen flouting a May 1 mask directive.

The stakes of defiance are high. Multiple studies have shown that face masks reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Countries that adopted them early on in the pandemic, like South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, are doing better at controlling the virus today.

The PPD’s mask policy went into effect almost three months ago. It states that N-95 masks should be worn when they’re available, and that the department would issue cloth masks to everyone. (At the time, the more advanced PPE was in short supply.)

“The purpose of providing these masks is to help prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus among our co-workers,” the policy reads. “Once a cloth facemask has been issued, it shall be worn by the employee at all times while on-duty.”

Philly police officers lined up outside the Municipal Services Building as a rally takes place in LOVE Park Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

There doesn’t seem to be any action coming that will enforce the directive. Abernathy said Commissioner Outlaw will continue to remind her force, even though they’ve been repeatedly reminded already.

“On a regular basis, orders are provided at roll call,” Abernathy said. “This was one of those orders, and it’s been, at least from my understanding, provided on more than one occasion.”

Ofc. Eric McLaurin, a police spokesperson, confirmed PPD officers have been advised of the policy and refused to comment further. The local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...