The Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Credit: Google Street View

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Effective today, the Philadelphia Police Dept. has instituted a new policy that directs how officers should act when dealing with “defiant trespass” calls. The new policy was inspired by the arrests of black entrepreneurs Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson at the Starbucks on 18th and Spruce last month, which sparked widespread outrage.

Penalties for defiant trespass can range from a summary to a misdemeanor, which people can receive when they’ve entered and remained in one place despite:

  • Being told to leave
  • Fences blocking the area
  • Postings prohibiting entry (especially to a school)

In introducing the new policy, the PPD explained that the existing Pennsylvania Crimes Code provides plenty of guidance for how officers should respond on private property — like someone’s home — but insufficient advice for dealing with “trespassers” on private business properties that are open to the public (think, well, Starbucks).

Enter PPD Commissioner’s Memorandum #18-02. This memo provides specific guidelines for officers who are called to enforce trespassers on those private-but-open-to-the-public scenarios.

Firstly, the new policy prohibits any form of discrimination while enforcing a “defiant trespass” law. Not exactly a new idea, but seemingly necessary in light of the April arrests at Starbucks.

Then, the policy lays out the sequence Philly police should follow:

  1. Attempt to deescalate the situation
  2. Involve a PPD officer trained in crisis intervention
  3. Request a supervisor to respond to the location

All the while, officers must ensure they’ve met five other criteria:

  1. The individual must know and understand they’re not allowed on the property
  2. Police must have notified the individual that they’re not allowed on the property
  3. The individual has to have defied that order and refused to leave
  4. The individual must have explicitly communicated their refusal to leave to the police officer
  5. The owner of the property (or another authorized person) must tell police that an order to leave the property was communicated and denied

If police meet those five steps, and the crisis intervention officer and the supervisor can’t mediate the situation — then yes, they can consider arresting the individual for a misdemeanor of the third degree.

“This allows police to take actions, with the help of their supervisor, that are most appropriate in each individual case,” Police Commissioner Richard Ross said in a statement.

“I view this policy as another positive step as our city learns and grows from the Starbucks incident,” offered Mayor Jim Kenney. “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.”

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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...