Philadelphia to stop arrests for many 'non-violent' crimes

Philadelphia is one of a few police departments in the US to stop arrests, and consider prisoner release to stop inmate spread of coronavirus.
Philadelphia is one of a few police departments in the US to stop arrests, and consider prisoner release to stop inmate spread of coronavirus.

The Philadelphia police announced yesterday that they would stop the arrest of certain “non-violent” crimes, according to Fox29 News. This course of action is in response to the likely spread of the coronavirus through prison facilities.

The department was sure to be clear that they were not “turning a blind eye to crime.” But this statement is only partially true. The announcement described that the police would bring the offender in for paperwork before releasing them on a warrant for their arrest at a later date. The obvious issue here is that there is no timetable for when those offenders will be arrested. Simply saying “at a later date” will surely not go very far in making those in the community feel safe.

Tim Poole tweeted, “Philly is really close to implementing a ‘Purge.’”

Suspending the arrests of criminals leaves open the possibility of the offender committing more crimes before they are arrested on their original warrant. What if someone commits two crimes before “a later date” rolls around? Would that be enough to immediately arrest the offender? All of this is made unclear by the Philadelphia police’s press release.

Philadelphia not only has to worry about the contagion, but homeowners and shop owners may now be more susceptible to break-ins and robberies. Which raises perhaps the biggest question of all. Why would the Philadelphia police make their strategy known to the general public? If a criminal knows that the police department is not going to make an arrest on crimes they may commit, then it almost certainly increases the likelihood that those crimes will be committed.

There was no net benefit in letting the general population know that crimes will be committed without immediate penalty. And Philadelphia is not the only city to tamper with the problem of prison capacities.

The Los Angeles Sheriff has now made the decision to release 600 inmates “with less than 30 days on their sentences.” This line of action may not seem terrible at first glance, but the spread of the coronavirus has just begun and there is no indication that it is going to slow down. This means that if Los Angeles is to maintain its efforts to dwindle the number of inmates in its prisons to stifle the number infected by the coronavirus, it will have to continue to release inmates and/or suspend arrests until “a later date.” What if the virus stays on its course for over a year? Perhaps thousands of offenders will not have to face their sentences and thousands of prisoners will be released without serving their full term.

If this line of action has any substance to it, it is likely that other larger cities in the US will follow suit. The efficacy of suspending arrests and releasing prisoners is still unknown, but it is certain that while it may, in some cases, prevent the spread of coronavirus, it may cause community unrest and perhaps put innocent residents in danger.

These new policies are not happening in a vacuum either. They are being spearheaded by activist groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the Press Herald, “The ACLU is calling for governors to grant commutations to anyone identified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as at particularly high risk of infection and whose sentence would end within two years; to release anyone, regardless of health status, who has less than one year remaining on their sentence; and to release anyone who is being held on a technical violation, such as violating the terms of probation.”

To release anyone whose sentence would end within “two years” is a bit unsettling. In 2016, Brock Turner was given a six-month sentence for raping an unconscious woman at Stanford. Had Turner’s case happened more recently, he would be released under the ACLU’s direction. I can only wonder what that young woman at Stanford and her family would feel about the ACLU’s formula. It is pure absurdity and neglect to think that releasing inmates that have n left in their sentence is, in any way, just or productive.

If there is a highly infectious disease spreading rapidly around the world, why should we be willing to inject our friends and family with even more anxiety and panic by justifying the release of criminals who have not served the duration of their sentence, or were simply released upon commission of a crime? The long-term plan of suspending arrests and releasing prisoners means that thousands of crimes will be committed without immediate penalty and thousands of criminals will be released. All of this in order to potentially stifle the spread of a virus inside a facility that houses criminals.