A controversial suspension of non-violent arrests has Philadelphia businesses on edge and fortifying against potential looters.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced the suspension of all arrests for certain non-violent crimes Wednesday, according to WTXF-TV.
According to documents acquired by law enforcement journalist Rob O’Donnell, the move suspends arrests for narcotics offenses, theft, burglary, stolen vehicles, fraud and prostitution.
Reaction to the news was swift.
“For the criminals in town, good to know,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted. “For the citizens of Philly, not so much.”
Businesses, many shuttered by their own choice or by official order, began bracing for a potential spike in theft and looting by fortifying windows and doorways.
To hopefully prevent looting while shutdown, The PA state liquor store on 69th Street is boarded up like it’s ready for a hurricane. After closing indefinitely for Coronavirus, the glass windows&doors are now all covered with thick plywood. @FOX29philly pic.twitter.com/xd2hjyg8gH
— Steve Keeley (@KeeleyFox29) March 18, 2020
Outlaw quickly issued a “clarification” that insisted criminals would be arrested, but the program sounds suspiciously like a catch-and-release policy that does little to deter crime.
“To be clear, the Philadelphia Police Department is not turning a blind eye to crime,” Outlaw wrote. “Persons who commit certain non-violent offenses will be arrested at the scene.”
Criminals “arrested” under this order shouldn’t be discouraged, however.
“Once their identity has been confirmed,” Outlaw continued, “they will be released and processed via arrest warrant.”
According to Outlaw’s clarification, officers are allowed to buck the new changes and bring criminals in on their own discretion. This would require approval from a supervisor, and the individual being detained would have to pose a threat to public safety under the order.
Clarification of PPD’s temporary response model in light of Covid-19 pic.twitter.com/8eMiUb17qD
— Danielle M. Outlaw (@PPDCommish) March 18, 2020
The Philadelphia Police Department’s own COVID-19 FAQ seems to run counter to Outlaw’s definition of an arrest, hinting that there is some confusion about the new order with those expected to carry it out.
“An arrest occurs when there exists probable cause that a person has committed a crime, and the individual is not free to leave,” the department said.
FAQ’s REGARDING PPD’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/LLLhDKgxxL
— Philadelphia Police (@PhillyPolice) March 18, 2020
Even under Outlaw’s clarification, criminals are free to leave after being processed on-scene.
As coronavirus continues to spread in America, it’s unclear if criminals will take advantage of the ongoing disruption to emergency services to break the law.
In Philadelphia, it looks like these lawbreakers have all the incentive they need to run rampant, and none of the punishment to prevent it.
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