Commissioner promises fewer arrests in Philly during fight against coronavirus pandemic

KYW Staff
March 18, 2020 - 7:53 am

UPDATED: 4:52 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw says officers are taking a different approach amid the coronavirus outbreak in an effort to protect officers and members of the community. She says there will be fewer arrests going forward.

She insists this only applies to non-violent offenders. After a person is identified, they will be processed and released with an arrest warrant. She says it's similar to the "summons process" that's used in other parts of the state.

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Officers will still have authority to use discretion and take a person into custody if the officer and a supervisor believe that person is a public safety threat. Decisions will be made by an officer with a supervisor on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the offense, criminal record, and other factors.

"Someone breaking into a shed. Does that necessarily require someone to be taken to the detective division and processes and taken into physical custody? The answer might be no," Outlaw said. "The answer could be yes, depending on what their previous history is, what their demeanor is and any other additional variables that might be present at that time."

She also says more members of the department are being reassigned to patrol in an effort to deter crime 24 hours a day, meaning there will be more cops on the street. Some types of calls will be handled remotely to limit police interaction with the public.

"Let me reiterate. Criminal offenders will be held accountable for the crimes the commit while we all work to stay healthy and safe," she said.

Outlaw says it's only a temporary response to the pandemic and they will be adjusting with the ever changing circumstances.

Reaction from Philadelphia residents 

“It was a little bit — I was a bit shaken up,” said Roslind Picharder, who runs Operation Save Our City, a victim services nonprofit that serves the 24th and 25th police districts. 

She says when word spread this week that police would not arrest suspects involved in low level crimes because of the coronavirus restrictions, she panicked.

“It was frightening to me and frightening to the people who are homeless and already face violence.”

But after hearing that police will identify suspects and revisit petty crimes later and increase police presence in her Kensington neighborhood, she felt better.

“I feel at ease at what’s taken place over the last 24 hours,” she added.

Cynthia Muse, captain of the 3700 Block of North 15th Street, says as long as the public knows that those who commit violent crimes will be jailed, she is not worried.

“I feel like everybody is taking it in stride. The financial shut down will be the main stressor,” she added. 

George Jackson, spokesperson for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, says they applaud the new law enforcement protocols as well as new efforts in Philadelphia prisons to quarantine new inmate admits for 14 days.

“We want to keep everybody who is currently in the prison system safe, and that includes the inmates and staff that works in the prison,” Jackson said.

Jackson says this means keeping as many low-risk individuals out of the jails as possible.

KYW Newsradio's Cherri Gregg and Mike Dougherty contributed to this report.