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Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority warns low-income residents of felony arrest for wearing ski masks

Police car lights (file photo)

(Updated 3:15 p.m.) As temperatures drop below freezing, the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority is warning its low-income families that they will be arrested if caught wearing ski masks.

In a Nov. 14 notification to approximately 1,500 low-income households under its watch, ARHA said that the Alexandria Police Department notified them that they will start “enforcing the prohibition against wearing face coverings that hide an individual’s face now that the COVID pandemic is over.”

The notice continued, “This means that anyone over the age of 16 who is caught wearing a ski mask in public will be arrested per section 18.2-422 of the Code of Virginia. Please share this information with your children and other household members.”

Violation of that code section is a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to a year in prison and/or a $2,500 fine.

Alexandria’s gun-related crime rose this year, with many incidents occurring on ARHA properties in Old Town North.

APD communications manager Tracy Walker said a sergeant recently visited residents and “provided information for parents who may consider educating their family members, that wearing ski masks and not medical masks violates the state code anywhere in the Commonwealth.”

Walker said the law allows for an officer arresting or detaining someone during the investigation of larceny or robbery to consider the ski mask as probable cause to be associated with the criminal behavior they are investigating. She also said that there has been no guidance to officers to change or enforce this violation differently.

Face coverings were required by law in Virginia from May 2020 to May 2021 during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kevin Harris, president of the ARHA Residents Association, said he’s looking into the message. He also said that he is not aware of police talking to residents, only to ARHA staff.

“I saw the notice and I’m looking into it to get clarity on its intention and the law itself since it can be interpreted so many ways and carries an implication of potential discriminatory actions against ARHA residents and repercussions for all citizens of Alexandria,” Harris told ALXnow. “It’s cold outside and plenty of people will be wearing face masks while they head home, jog, or walk their dogs. Our jails could be full this winter if this law is exactly like it’s stated in this notice. I’m hoping that’s not the case so I’m doing my research.”

ALXnow reached out to ARHA for more information on the notification.

A Nov. 14 notification sent to approximately 1,500 low-income ARHA residents (courtesy image)

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