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Philly police resume pre-coronavirus arrest procedures for some non-violent crimes

The department is ending a controversial scale-back of delaying arrests for crimes like burglary and theft.

District Attorney Larry Krasner, left, listens as Philadelphia police commissioner Danielle Outlaw addresses the media outside the Police Administration Building during a news conference in March.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, left, listens as Philadelphia police commissioner Danielle Outlaw addresses the media outside the Police Administration Building during a news conference in March.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The Philadelphia Police Department on Friday announced that it would immediately end the controversial scale-back of arrests for some nonviolent crimes that was put in place in March in response to the pandemic.

Police will now arrest people for certain property crimes, such as retail theft and burglary, officials said. Previously officers were instructed to detain suspects at the scene to be fingerprinted and identified, and then submit paperwork for charges to be filed later.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a statement Friday that the coronavirus protocols were under continuous review and that it was time to change.

“Predictably, conditions have in fact evolved in dynamic fashion. Accordingly, we have reviewed our current protocols and have made several adjustments,” she said.

The city is facing an increase in retail thefts at small businesses already struggling to survive with the pandemic, the department said, and there has been a rise in burglaries committed by repeat offenders.

Besides retail theft and burglaries, police are again resuming normal arrests for stealing an automobile, theft from an automobile, and theft from a person.

"For the listed offenses, arrested persons will be immediately transported to a police facility and processed in the traditional manner," the department said.

The procedures remain under review and are subject to change, officials said.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby said the shift in the department’s approach was understandable.

“With warmer weather on the horizon and crime likely to spike, we expect our Philadelphia police officers to protect their own safety and carry out their jobs with respect and professionalism,” McNesby said in a statement.

“Our well-trained officers are committed to keeping this city safe, we understand the need to pivot and begin to aggressively fight crime that is impacting all neighborhoods," McNesby said. "Now, we only need cooperation from the District Attorney’s Office to keep some of these repeat offenders locked up.”

Jane Roh, spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner, said in an email: “The reduction in detentions to stop a catastrophic outbreak of COVID in jails is completely a result of cooperation between police" and the District Attorney’s Office. "We will continue to work together to ensure people who are a danger to the public are held accountable.”

The changes in March came as courts in the city closed because of coronavirus concerns. The announcement drew swift criticism from some people who complained that the changes would encourage lawlessness. Arrest procedures were also revised at the time for crimes such as prostitution and drug offenses, and those changes will remain in place and were not affected by the announcement Friday.

» READ MORE: Philly Police are adapting to the coronavirus crisis. Kensington’s drug dealers are adapting, too.

In the city’s prison system, 58 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and one — a 48-year-old woman — has died.

As of Friday, there were 3,696 inmates in the system, said city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco.

“At this time, there is no concern about the ability to maintain the CDC’s COVID-19 protocols within prison facilities should there be an increase in population,” Cofrancisco said in an email.

» READ MORE: Racing against a coronavirus clock, Philly courts release 200+ jail inmates in the first week of fast-track emergency hearings