Philadelphia police will delay arrests for certain nonviolent offenses in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic but the commissioner insists they are "not turning a blind eye to crime."
Police announced Tuesday that arrests for certain nonviolent offenses will be made “pursuant to an Arrest Warrant, which will be served at a later date.” The change in protocol means anyone accused of a nonviolent offense who would normally be arrested and processed at a detective division will now be temporarily detained for the purpose of confirming their identity and the completion of required paperwork. They’ll then be arrested at a later date.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw clarified the policy in a tweet early Wednesday morning, claiming her department "is not turning a blind eye to crime."
"This is similar to the 'summons process' that is utilized in many other counties throughout the Commonwealth," Outlaw said. "An officer still has the authority to utilize discretion, and take an offender into physical custody for immediate processing, if the officer and supervisor believe the individual poses a threat to public safety."
Other changes include the following:
- Officers from various plain-clothes specialized units will be temporarily reassigned to uniform patrol duties.
- The “Live Stop” vehicle impoundment program will be suspended until further notice.
- Nonessential training has been temporarily suspended.
- Police Radio will redirect certain calls for service to Patrol Districts. An officer will speak to citizen via telephone, then, prepare a police report.
- Police Department employees are being versed in best practices to avoid communication of COVID-19 (e.g., maintaining proper social distancing, washing hands regularly, wearing of nitrile gloves, refraining from touching face and eyes, etc.).
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Mayor Jim Kenney said the arrest policy changes were made with input from various parts of his administration.
"For my part, I want to make this clear, the revised protocols were a result of a thoughtful collaboration among the police department, the managing director's office, the health department and our criminal justice partners, including the first judicial district," Kenney said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
"I believe these changes strike a proper balance between protecting the health of the public and our police officers and ensuring public safety," Kenney said.
The police union is also supporting the temporary changes.
"We are supportive of Commissioner Outlaw’s directive on making arrests during the Coronavirus crisis," Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 president John McNesby wrote in a statement. "The directive was released to keep officers safe during this public-health crisis. Meanwhile, violent offenders will be arrested and processed with the guidance of a police supervisor."