COVID-19 Impact Report

Last Updated Through 11/28/2022

Definitions | Limitations

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed our lives in ways that will be felt long after the current crisis has ended, disrupting our routines and presenting unprecedented challenges. This is no less true for our criminal justice system. Here we document some of the ways in which COVID-19 and the policies implemented to address it have impacted criminal justice in Philadelphia. This page was launched on June 6, 2020.

Tracking the Impact of COVID-19 on the Criminal Justice System

The tabs below examine the impact of COVID-19 and the policies meant to mitigate its effects on four deeply intertwined aspects of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system.

Reported Crime Incidents

Reported Criminal Incidents

The accompanying chart tracks criminal incidents reported each month between 2016 and 2020. The 2020 line, highlighted in red (2016-2019 lines in blue), shows the dramatic drop in reported incidents beginning in mid-March when the city went into its shutdown. The reduction in reported incidents is probably due to a combination of reduced criminal incidents and a lower likelihood of observing or reporting crime due to our collective efforts to flatten the curve by staying home. Though reported incidents have decreased overall, some have remained the same while others have increased. Incident data for more specific types of crimes are reported in the charts below.

Reported Criminal Incidents by Type of Offense
Not all crime has been affected by COVID-19 in the same way. Some offenses have seen dramatic drops in reports, while others have stayed at levels similar to a normal year. Others have seen increases in reports. Use the tabs below to see how reports of different types of offenses have changed in 2020 compared with previous years.

Violent

Property

Drugs

Firearms

Arrests

Arrests

On March 17, 2020 the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) announced that in response to COVID-19, for certain non-violent incidents, officers would note the person’s ID and contact information and then release them, but swear out a warrant that could be used as the basis for an arrest at a later time. This policy was designed to preserve public safety while limiting the number of people taken to Police Districts or kept in prison for lack of bail money. This policy, along with a dramatic decrease in incidents in the weeks after the city shutdown, led to a 78% decrease in weekly arrests between March and April. On May 1, the PPD modified their policy, announcing that in addition to arresting and detaining people suspected of violent crimes, officers would resume the transport and detention of people suspected of any of five non-violent property crimes. Those crimes were: Burglary; Theft From Auto; Theft from Person; Auto Theft and, Retail Theft. The accompanying chart tracks arrests by police each week between 2016 and 2020; 2020 has been highlighted in red. The chart does not track warrants issued, only completed arrests.

Effect of Police Policy
The charts below show monthly arrests by type of offense for 2016-2020. Follow the red line to see how arrests for particular types of offenses in 2020 compare with the numbers in previous years. Use the tabs below to explore different types of offenses by their category.

Violent

Property

Drugs

Firearms

Courts

Effects of Court Closures

The court system all but closed on March 17, 2020. Based on an Order issued by the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, cases could be preliminarily arraigned and bail set, and certain emergency hearings could take place, but the vast majority of case processing activity ceased. In practical terms, this means that with the exception of certain emergency matters, cases are no longer being disposed. This was a rational early response to COVID-19 when the shutdown was expected to last for a few weeks. Now that the shutdown has continued for months, the courts are striving to find a means to process cases in ways that will dispose of them in accordance with the requirements of law and the Constitution, and, at the same time, protect the health and safety of Judges, court personnel and all persons who have business before the courts. On June 1, 2020, the courts began to status cases to try to start alleviating the backlog.