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NYPD To 'Reset' Social Distancing Enforcement, Focus On Large Gatherings, Mayor Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mayor Bill de Blasio says the NYPD will focus its social distancing enforcement on large gatherings moving forward.

This comes as New Yorkers are expressing confusion over the city's rules.

In Central Park on Friday, it felt like summer and it looked like a beach in Sheep Meadow.

"People are together, there's no masks," one man said.

"How many rules are there? I think there's only a couple, right?" another person said.

"Can we go out? How often can we go out? When to wear a mask, when not? I feel like there's no standard," said Fei Fang, of Midtown.

"Do we get fined if we don't have a mask on or not? I don't know. I don't know who's enforcing it," said Roger Wu, of Midtown.

"One person says this, another says that, so it does get a bit confusing," said Chris Burns, of the Bronx.

One woman told CBS2's Ali Bauman she's resorted to being a sort of social distancing vigilante.

"When I see people without masks, I ask them to please put the masks on or I sort of grumphle at them and since I'm sort of elderly, they look a little guilty," she said.

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"It became clear that everyone deserves more clarity," de Blasio said.

The mayor said it is time to "reset" the city's approach during Friday's coronavirus briefing.

His announcement came after social media videos showed violent encounters, leading some to question the department's role in enforcement.

"I think what's become clear in recent days is we're balancing a very complex equation here. Health and safety come first, unquestionably. We're dealing with a pandemic, we're dealing with the biggest health care crisis in a century. We have to get it right," de Blasio said. "Enforcement is always a part of protecting people's safety – for time in memorial. But at the same time, we have something very precious that we have achieved here in this city. In changing the relationship between police and community, in reinventing our approach to policing, in reducing crime because there's more of a bond between police and community, that's also about protecting people's safety, and we need to protect that."

"So we do not, in any way shape or form, want to slide backwards and undermine that precious bond that's been growing and improving between police and community."

The mayor thanked Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright for their input, saying the goal is to clarify expectations for the police and public.

He said the NYPD will focus on breaking up large gatherings, which pose a risk to public safety.

"The bigger the gathering, the more that needs to be done by the NYPD to make sure that gathering either never gets started to begin with or is quickly broken up. If we never need to take any additional enforcement action other than the NYPD showing up and people leaving, that's the ideal by far," he said. "Summonses are an available tool and they will be given if people do not disperse, but the goal is to not even get to the point of summonses, just to make sure that large gatherings don't happen."


Civilian ambassadors, houses of worship and community groups will help educate people and hand out face coverings.

"We want to make this a positive approach. We do not want to revive the mistakes of the past. We think we can strike a balance," said de Blasio.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea also sent a memo to officers, saying in part, "Moving forward, however, we will no longer issue summonses or make arrests for infractions related to face coverings — absent of a crime or other violation being committed."

This weekend, there will be limited access to Sheep Meadow in Central Park, as well as Domino Park, where there are already social distancing circles drawn on the turf, and Hudson River Park Piers 45 and 46.

The mayor's office says 1,000 civilian ambassadors per day will be on patrol this weekend, handing out masks and reminding pedestrians to stay at a safe distance.

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