PHILADELPHIA (AP/WTXF) - The Philadelphia Police Department on 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," the policy says. "Such misuse may lead to a technically lawful arrest, but can create the appearance of improprieties on behalf of the officers and the Department."
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested April 12 within minutes of arriving at Starbucks. A viral video of their arrest sparked national outrage and has led to policy changes at the world's largest coffeehouse chain, including unconscious bias training and a new policy that allows anyone to sit in its cafes or use its restrooms -- even if they don't buy anything.
The men reached a settlement with Starbucks and the city last month. They were not prosecuted, and their arrest records have been expunged.
Philadelphia police also came under fire in the wake of the arrest for how the incident was handled, with critics questioning why the men were arrested so quickly for something many see as common practice at the coffee shops.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross initially defended his officers' handling of the encounter but later publicly apologized to the men in a somber press conference.
"We've made a lot of progress and will continue to do so as we explore and implement new practices that reflect the importance of diversity, public safety and accountability," Ross said.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney released the following statement on the policy change:
“I’m pleased that the Philadelphia Police Department thoroughly reviewed its internal policies and created clearer guidance for police officers responding to calls related to trespassing on private business property that is open to the public. The new policy will allow police officers to use greater discretion in taking actions that are most appropriate for each individual case. This can lead to fewer arrests, and, most importantly, will ensure that our officers are not placed in untenable situations at the behest of retailers.
“I view this policy as another positive step as our City learns and grows from the Starbucks incident. My Administration also plans to propose legislation to make defiant trespassing a civil offense that can result in a fine rather than arrest, so that the penalty is more commensurate with the infraction. As I said at the time of the incident, pain can lead to progress, and this new policy is an important milestone on that journey.”
Councilman Johnson's statement on the Philadelphia Police Department's new "Defiant Trespass" Policy
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) issued the following statement in response to the Philadelphia Police Department's recently updated trespassing policy in response to the incident at Starbucks:
"I commend Commissioner Ross for his thoughtful leadership in the wake of the Starbucks arrests. It took integrity to admit that the arrests should not have happened. It took even more to follow through with development of a new policy on incidents involving alleged trespass. After preliminary review of the new policy, I believe it provides clear, thorough, and well-reasoned guidance to police personnel.
"I will continue to work with Starbucks on improving its policies and corporate culture. I will continue to champion good policy and an inclusive culture in our Police Department but today's announcement reinforces my confidence in Commissioner Ross and the Philadelphia Police Department."