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Coronavirus Latest: Philadelphia Police Commissioner Says Department 'Not Turning Blind Eye To Crime' Over New Arrest Policy

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw sought to clarify the department's new arrest procedure during the coronavirus pandemic, saying they are "not turning a blind eye to crime." On Tuesday, the department said persons who commit certain nonviolent offenses will be arrested at the scene but processed at a later time.

The police commissioner said the change is to limit exposure of the coronavirus to officers and to those who they come in contact with. But it's also created a bit of controversy.

Outlaw was upset, saying this document was leaked without police being able to properly communicate it and says it's been not only harmful to the department, but a distraction as well.

"We will continue to enforce all the laws," Outlaw said during a press conference Wednesday.

The main goal this morning was clarifying the changes.

"This approach is designed, first and foremost, to keep our families and communities we serve safe from COVID-19," Outlaw said.

So many online were worried or invoked purge-like lawlessness, but Outlaw says that's simply not the case.

"We are not turning a blind eye to crime," Outlaw said. "People committing certain non-violent crimes will be retained at the scene with a warrant to return for processing. When we are on the other side of this health crisis, we will return to our normal protocols. With that said, no one will escape accountability for the crimes they commit."

Officers will be using discretion on a case-by-case business. Officers will look at the severity of the offense, the person's criminal record, their demeanor and if the individual is a danger to the community to make a determination if the person should remain in custody.

"Any criminal who believes there will be no consequences for criminal behavior will be sadly mistaken," Philadelphia Managing Director Brain Abernathy said.

"They are going to be taken in, they are going to be identified and then let go and arrested at a later time. Whether we find them or not at a later time remains to be seen," Philadelphia FOP President John McNesby said.

It's new territory and a temporary change aimed at protecting those who continue to protect us, and for that, the Fraternal Order of Police approves the measure.

Plainclothes officers have also been reassigned to patrol duties to increase police presence.

"I believe these changes strike a proper balance between safeguarding the health of the public, police officers and ensuring public safety," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.

The modified procedure went into effect on Tuesday.

Police are also earning time-and-a-half as they continue to work their shifts during the outbreak.

The office of District Attorney Larry Krasner says they are working to release people charged with non-violent offenses from prisons due to overcrowding and COVID-19 concerns. They would not be required to post bail.

To reduce potential exposure and the spread of COVID-19, many other departments in the region announced that non-emergency calls will initially be handled over the phone rather than in-person.

CBS3's Dan Koob, H0ward Monroe and Alexandria Hoff contributed to this report.

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