COVID-19 Impact Report

Last Updated Through 08/03/2020

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.

Justice Delayed

Because the courts closed, cases are not being fully processed through the system and are not being resolved, and thousands of cases remain in “open” status. This chart shows the total number of open cases per day, and how that number has increased since the court closure.

Jail Population

Lowering the Jail Population

After five years of reform, Philadelphia jails began 2020 with the lowest population in more than a decade. Continuing to reduce the jail population is vital to public health in Philadelphia during COVID-19 and beyond. Across the country, jails and prisons are among the hotspots for COVID-19. As of June 5, 57 of the 100 largest COVID-19 clusters in the US were in jails or prisons. In Philadelphia jails as of July 17, over 450 incarcerated people have tested positive for the virus since March (Sources: City of Philadelphia, BillyPenn). Continued proliferation in crowded jails is inevitable due to close contact between incarcerated people and guards. The health emergency created by the spread of the coronavirus in our jails will not only impact incarcerated people and staff. As correctional employees return home at the end of the workday, and as incarcerated people are released and return to their neighborhoods, both groups risk exposing their families and communities to the virus. By reducing the current jail population and the number of people entering the jails every day, we can reduce this threat to public health.

The Impact of COVID-19 Policies on the Jail Population

In order to measure the impact of COVID-19 related efforts to reduce the jail population, we developed a statistical model to project what the jail population might be today absent meaningful intervention. The model uses historical jail population data (from June 1, 2019 – March 15, 2020) and the average daily temperature (as a control) to assess the impact the post-COVID emergency declaration policies had on the jail population. As the chart shows, prior to March 16, 2020, the jail population was relatively stable and fit well within the model, represented in the graphic by the gray area. Because of the interventions in the justice system, the actual jail population–represented by the blue line–dropped significantly outside of the predicted range.

Timeline

How COVID-19 Interrupted the Criminal Justice System
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic did not come all at once. Actions were taken and policies were implemented at different times. To develop a more complete understanding of how the criminal justice system has evolved during this period, the timeline below shows when Pennsylvania and Philadelphia government agencies took certain actions.
  • PA State Emergency Declaration

    Governor Tom Wolf signs Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency Disaster Declaration.

    March 6, 2020

  • Philadelphia Shutdown

    The City of Philadelphia closes all non-essential businesses.


    DAO implements COVID-19 Policies

    The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office implements new policies on charging and bail.

    March 16, 2020

  • Court Closure

    First Judicial District of Philadelphia begins emergency closure of courts due to the pandemic.


    Police Policies Enacted

    Philadelphia Police Department issues policy that officers will issue warrants instead of effecting arrests for non-violent offenses and other adjustments to protocols.

    March 17, 2020

  • Philadelphia Stay at Home Order

    Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney issues Stay at Home Order for the City.

    March 23, 2020

  • Expedited Motions Begin

    Philadelphia courts issue order allowing for expedited criminal motions to be filed.

    March 27, 2020

  • Early Release Hearings Start

    Philadelphia courts begin hearings for early release of people held in Philadelphia Jails.

    April 7, 2020

  • Court Begins Hearing Pleas

    Courts begin hearing negotiated guilty pleas, and the first eligible cases are disposed.

    April 24, 2020

  • Police Emergency Policy Partially Rescinded

    The Philadelphia Police Department partially rescind emergency response procedures for some non-violent offenses, including: retail theft, theft from auto, theft from person, burglary, and auto theft.

    May 1, 2020

  • Jail Population Hits Lowest Point

    Philadelphia jails hit its lowest population at 3,645. The jail population has not been this low since 1985. After this date, the jail population began to increase.

    May 8, 2020

  • Courts Announce End of Judicial Emergency

    The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania announced the Cessation of Statewide Judicial Emergency After June 1, 2020. This allows President Judges of judicial districts certain powers to reopen courts to resume hearing cases.

    May 27, 2020

  • Demonstrations for Justice and Equality

    People in Philadelphia began demonstrations and protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by now-former officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. Most arrests during the protests have led to civil citations. Citations are not included in this Report as the District Attorney’s Office has no role in civil citations and does not have access to civil citation data.

    May 30, 2020

  • Philadelphia Moves to Yellow

    Philadelphia moved from Red to Yellow in the state COVID-19 reopening plan. The Yellow designation permits more movement within the city, including the opening of stores and workplaces.

    June 5, 2020