Philly DA Krasner: Curb low-level arrests to slow spread of coronavirus

In this file photo, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks with members of the media during a news conference in Philadelphia, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks with members of the media during a news conference in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has called for a big reduction in arrests over low-level, non-violent crimes, citing concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

The city’s top prosecutor cited a weekend of arrests that included relatively minor offenses –– like unlicensed alcohol sales and simple drug possession –– and expressed concerns that law enforcement activity risked spreading the virus to police, attorneys, court staff and those currently in detention.

“We want to make sure the police are safe and don’t have prolonged contact with people that have the virus,” he 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.”

Krasner said that he had urged Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to shift the focus of the police force towards “serious offenses” in the interest of public health.

However, Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said the city’s police officials had not committed to a particular strategy regarding low-level arrests.

“The Philadelphia Police Department is continuing to discuss all options to ensure the safest outcomes possible for everyone in light of the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “These discussions began before the DA’s comments and are not in response to them.”

While the DA was elected on a progressive criminal justice platform of ending cash bail and reducing incarceration, his policies have drawn the ire of the local police union and others in Philadelphia law enforcement.

Krasner said he was nevertheless “hopeful” the commissioner would address the issue later today, he suggested that his office could independently delay or even decline to charge non-violent misdemeanors.

The DA’s remarks come shortly after an announcement that the city’s courts would largely shut down due to health concerns. Krasner earlier said his office had already revised its own policies around charging and bail “in order to ensure only people who present a danger to the public are held in detention.”

On Monday, he urged actors across Philadelphia’s criminal justice to work cooperatively to adapt criminal justice policies to react to the contagion.

“You can issue a warrant for an arrest and come back later. In many jurisdictions, you can issue a summons,” he said. “Creative people in the courts, police and our office could come together and allow us to not abandon cases.”

Krasner and Dunn both declined to confirm or deny if any personnel had been exposed to the virus.

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