With coronavirus cases once again rising across Los Angeles and within the ranks of the city's police, LAPD officers have been ordered to wear face masks "whenever in public or in the workplace."
More than a few cops, however, are ignoring the directive — and getting caught.
At crime scenes and traffic stops, on patrol and even inside police stations, officers have been seen and filmed without face coverings. At times, they have been recorded scoffing at the notion they should wear a mask or offering vague reasons why the rule doesn't apply to them.
"You guys have nothing else better to do than to be on our butts about that?" an officer responded recently when William Gude, an activist critical of the LAPD, filmed a second officer making an arrest without a mask on and asked why he wasn't complying with the department's order.
"I’m inside the Hollywood LAPD station. The cops are maskless while helping civilians," Gude wrote in another tweet Tuesday, which quickly racked up hundreds of likes.
The failure of officers to cover their faces as the more contagious Delta variant of the virus surges was raised during the civilian Police Commission's weekly meeting Tuesday. After LAPD Chief Michel Moore briefed the panel on the rise of infections in the department and in the city as a whole, several people watching the remote meeting on video made comments chastising officers for not doing their part to prevent the virus' spread.
Nearly half the LAPD remains unvaccinated, and new cases in the department — particularly among sworn officers — have spiked in recent weeks, with more than 50 LAPD employees infected in the past week, Moore said. Four LAPD personnel were hospitalized with serious cases of the virus as of Tuesday, and two others had been in the ICU this past week but were released, he said.
Ten LAPD personnel and three spouses of LAPD personnel have died from complications of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic; more than 2,800 LAPD personnel have contracted the virus.
Under questioning from Commissioner Dale Bonner on Tuesday, Moore acknowledged that the 52 new cases identified in the last week were almost certainly an undercount, because officers aren't regularly tested and could be asymptomatic.
He said the department is working with the city and its labor union on nailing down the details of a new mandate that will require officers to get vaccinated or submit to routine testing.
Gude on Tuesday posted to Twitter video and images of several officers walking through the Hollywood station lobby and sitting at the front desk without masks on. He said some without face coverings were interacting with members of the public.
The previous night, Gude posted multiple videos of unmasked officers. In one, an LAPD supervisor defended an unmasked officer involved in a traffic stop by telling Gude that the officer might be vaccinated. Vaccinated officers are still required to wear masks.
Gude regularly tells unmasked cops they are a public health threat, a claim he has repeated in dozens of complaints filed with the department in recent months.
In an email to Gude, the department said that dozens of his complaints are pending. Of those that had been resolved, investigators determined that the officer's "actions could have been different" in six. An additional three complaints were determined to be unfounded. In two cases, investigators determined that the officer's actions "did not rise to the level of misconduct," the email said, and in two others they determined there was "insufficient evidence to adjudicate."
Although Moore has assured the Police Commission repeatedly that officers are required to wear masks, "I don't see it out on the street," Gude said in an interview with The Times.
In response to a question from The Times about how many officers are not wearing masks, Moore wrote in an email Tuesday that it "is difficult to quantify the rates of compliance" because of the large number of officers working across the sprawling city each day. He said the instruction to wear masks was made clear to officers throughout the department, and no officer should be confused by it.
Moore defended the department's response when an officer is caught maskless, which he said has been to "seek voluntary compliance" after initial violations and to impose "progressive discipline" for repeated violations.
"We have taken progressive corrective action including written notices to employees advising they would be subject to greater discipline if they were found not to wear a mask as required," he said. "Official Reprimands by the Chief of Police placed in the employee’s personnel record have also been issued."
"Ultimately," Moore wrote, "our efforts are intended not to punish, but to gain compliance on this important issue."
The department last week said that 55 officers had received notices, counseling or training about mask-wearing. It said nearly 100 complaints were pending. Moore did not answer a question about whether any officer had been suspended or docked pay for repeatedly failing to wear a mask.
Through July 21, 47% of LAPD personnel were fully vaccinated and 52.2% had at least one vaccine dose, the department said. Those rates are below the rates of vaccination in the general population.
There are also nearly 1,600 LAPD employees who have not been vaccinated but have had COVID-19 and may be protected by natural antibodies, the department said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.