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.
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.
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.
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.