Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has called on the city’s police force to turn a blind eye to 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.
“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.
Krasner has urged Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to instruct the city’s police force to only focus on “serious offenses” in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, WHYY reported.
In the meantime, the district attorney 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.”
On March 13, First Judicial District judges stayed late to endorse approximately 100 petitions for early parole, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Judges plan to handle more hearings through video conferencing, and are trying to postpone as many matters as possible until June 1.
The court is also limiting the number of jurors it convenes to less than 200.
“We all have a role as public servants to try to protect the public,” Krasner told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Hopefully, if we can get all the partners together, we can find some probably unheard-of but also very constructive ways to keep the public safe on more than one front.”
Commissioner Outlaw said that the department’s arrest practices are currently under review.
“We recognize that some police departments have made modifications to their arrest procedures in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We are continuing to discuss all options to ensure the safest outcomes possible for everyone. Of course this may change in a moment’s notice, as we are meeting regularly and resource needs are rapidly changing.”
As the number of coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania rose to 76 on Monday, Philadelphia city officials closed city buildings, non-essential businesses, and restricted restaurants to pick-up and delivery only, WHYY reported.
“These changes are not made lightly and we are well aware of the potentially devastating effects they will have on businesses and workers of Philadelphia,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told the news outlet.