Philly police update defiant trespass policy after Starbucks arrests

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Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter uses a bullhorn during an April protest at Starbucks in Center City Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for WHYY)

Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter uses a bullhorn during an April protest at Starbucks in Center City Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for WHYY)

The Philadelphia Police Department Friday announced a new policy on how to confront people accused of trespassing on private property, two months after coming under fire for arresting two black men waiting for a colleague at a Starbucks.

Officers are now instructed to first attempt to de-escalate and mediate disturbances between property owners and accused offenders. Before an officer arrests someone, that person must understand he or she is not allowed on the property. The officer also must witness the person refusing to leave.

“While business owners may exclude persons from their establishments, they cannot misuse the authority of police officers in the process,” according to the policy. “Such misuse may lead to a technically lawful arrest, but can create the appearance of improprieties on behalf of the officers and the Department.”

The policy is promising, said Phillip Stinson who studies criminology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.  But getting it to stick, to become second nature to officers, will take time — if it happens at all, he added.

“It’s very difficult to change officers’ habits, the way that they handle situations. There would need to be ongoing training and constant reminders that we want to encourage officers to de-escalate situations.” he said. “The more difficult that somebody on the street presents themselves to the officer, the more likely it is that they’re going to get arrested.”

With or without training, the policy won’t make life easier for African-Americans, said Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania, one of the groups that protested the arrests.

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