Philadelphia, PA – The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) will immediately release “certain non-violent” offenders they arrest in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw expressed frustration that a department-wide memo she sent out on Tuesday regarding PPD’s new arrest procedures was released to the media before she had explained it, KYW reported.
She referred to the leak as “disrespectful,” and said that it created “undue fear…and alarm in a time of crisis,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“[It] was a huge distraction for our ability to work around the clock,” Commissioner Outlaw added.
Under the new protocols, which went into effect on Tuesday evening, offenders arrested for drug possession, theft, burglary, vandalism, vehicle theft, prostitution, economic crimes, and all bench warrants must be released once their identity has been confirmed.
After allowing offenders to walk out the door, the officers must then submit arrest paperwork for review to see if an arrest warrant can be issued.
“The warrant will be served at a later time, as conditions dictate,” Commissioner Outlaw wrote.
The commissioner noted that some offenders may remain in custody on a case-by-case basis.
“If an officer believes that releasing the offender would pose a threat to public safety, the officer will notify a supervisor, who will review the totality of the circumstances and utilize discretion, in the interest of public safety, in determining the appropriate course of action,” Commissioner Outlaw wrote.
Plainclothes officers have also been pulled from specialized units and temporarily reassigned to uniformed patrol.
Social media soon erupted with posts from people concerned about the potential for violent lawlessness not unlike the movie, “The Purge,” KYW reported.
“To be clear, the Philadelphia Police Department is not turning a blind eye to crime,” Commissioner Outlaw tweeted on Tuesday night. “This is similar to the ‘summons process’ that is utilized in many other counties throughout the Commonwealth.”
“To reiterate, criminal offenders will be held accountable for the crimes they commit,” she added, noting that the protocol changes are nothing more than a “temporary response.”
Commissioner Outlaw readdressed the issues during a press conference on Wednesday morning, KYW reported.
“We will continue to enforce all the laws,” she said. “When we are on the other side of this health crisis, we will return to our normal protocols.”
The PPD’s protocol changes went into effect shortly after Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner called on Commissioner Outlaw to ignore all but “serious offenses” in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I look forward to the decisions the police are going to make about arrests,” Krasner told The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this week.
“In light of whatever they choose to do, we are going to have to make decisions about whether we charge or not, and we are going to have to make decisions about whether to seek to have people in custody if they are charged,” he said.
Krasner complained about officers who have recently arrested suspects for offenses such as simple drug possession and unlicensed alcohol sales, and said that such apprehensions could lead to other members of the criminal justice system becoming infected with the novel coronavirus, WHYY reported.
“We want to make sure the police are safe and don’t have prolonged contact with people that have the virus,” Krasner said. “Taking one person back to the police station risks everyone at the station. They go into custody, they endanger other inmates in that great cruise ship that is a jail. And then they go to court.”
Placing court personnel and attorneys at risk of infection is also a concern, the district attorney said.
The district attorney said he has been revising policies within his office regarding bail and deciding whether or not to charge offenders “in order to ensure only people who present a danger to the public are held in detention,” according to WHYY.
Krasner said that officers can always just arrest offenders again later.
“You can issue a warrant for an arrest and come back later. In many jurisdictions, you can issue a summons,” he declared. “Creative people in the courts, police and our office could come together and allow us to not abandon cases.”