Cops on alert for masked criminals amid pandemic

While wearing a medical mask, Serrell Gordon stole $780 in energy drinks from a Walmart store, then falsely claimed to loss prevention that he had coronavirus, San Leandro police say.

The security officers backed away, but police officers caught up to Gordon later. He was booked into jail - after medical staff cleared the way for his incarceration, authorities said.

Gordon is among the first suspects in the Bay Area to be accused of allegedly taking advantage of the pandemic to pull off a crime. Police say he won't be the last.

"If people are taking advantage of this crisis right now - which they usually do - we're going to come after them," said Sonoma County sheriff's Sgt. Juan Valencia.

But with potentially everyone wearing a mask these days, how can police tell the difference between a crook and someone dodging COVID-19?

"It's all based on circumstantial - on the person, whether or not they're going to go in there and if they're acting really nervous, looking  around, seeing if people are watching," Valencia said.

The Sonoma County sheriff's office investigated the case of a masked burglar in Bodega Bay during last year’s Kincade Fire. Many people were wearing masks because of poor air quality.

Nowadays, police also have to make sure they're not "pandemic profiling."

"Just because someone's wearing a mask doesn't mean that they're involved in some criminal actvity," Valencia said.

And just because someone's wearing a mask doesn't mean he or she won't get caught.

One robbery suspect in a medical mask turned out to be a pharmacist, someone well versed in such protection, authorities said.

"A pharmacist used a hospital mask to rob – allegedly rob – three different pharmacies over the course of a year," said Scott Alonso, Contra Costa County district attorney's spokesman.