An internal memo detailing changes to Philadelphia Police Department protocols in the face of the coronavirus crisis has now gone viral, and the response has compelled the police commissioner to issue a “clarification.”
Among the outlets that have reported on the city’s new protocols is the Philadelphia Inquirer, which published the internal memo listing the now arrest-free non-violent crimes. “One day after Philadelphia courts closed until April 1 to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw notified commanders Tuesday that police will be delaying arrests for nonviolent crimes, including drug offenses, theft, and prostitution,” the Inquirer reported.
“The City of Philadelphia has updated its posture concerning the Covid-19 pandemic,” Outlaw’s memo reads. “Beginning today (March 17, 2020), the City is suspending all public-facing services. To that end, most municipal buildings will be closed to the public, as the City tries to limit the potential for exposure to Covid-19. Patrol Districts will remain open to the public. In addition, beginning Wednesday, March 18, 2020, only essential employees will be required to come in to work. If you have questions about who is essential and non-essential, please consult with your supervisor.”
The commissioner then details the Police Department’s “modifications to several of our existing protocols,” including a list of offenses that will now be addressed via arrest warrant by the officer on the scene rather than actual arrest:
Effective Today (March 17, 2020), during the 4pm x 12am tour, arrests for the following offenses will be effectuated via Arrest Warrant:
- All Narcotics Offenses
- Theft from persons
- Retail Theft
- Theft from auto
- All Bench warrants
- Stolen auto
- Economic crime (bad checks, fraud)
The memo also explains the arrest warrant process:
- Officers who encounter persons who would ordinarily be arrested for these offenses, and processed at a detective division immediately following arrest, will adhere to the following procedures:
- Temporarily detain the offender for the length of time required to confirm identity (this may require the deployment of mobile fingerprint scanners).
- Prepare all relevant paperwork (e.g., 75-48, 75-48A, etc.).
- Release offender.
- Submit all paperwork to the detective division of occurrence.
- The assigned detective will prepare an arrest affidavit and submit to DACU for review. If charges are approved, the assigned detective will obtain an Arrest Warrant. The warrant will be served at a later time, as conditions dictate.
Outlaw underscores in the memo that while the above list of offenses should generally be handled with arrest warrants, officers may determine that physical arrest is required in the interest of public safety:
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.
Amid reports on the new policy, Outlaw issued a “clarification” Tuesday emphasizing that “the Philadelphia Police Department is not turning a blind eye to crime”:
Clarification of PPD's temporary response model in light of Covid-19 pic.twitter.com/8eMiUb17qD
— Danielle M. Outlaw (@PPDCommish) March 18, 2020
As outlined in the memo, among the other changes the police department is implementing are the following:
- Personnel from several plain-clothes specialized unites will be temporarily reassigned to uniform patrol duties.
- The “Live Stop” vehicle impoundment program will be suspended until further notice.