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Philadelphia Police Department changes policy for trespassing calls after Starbucks incident

Posted at 1:50 PM, Jun 08, 2018

The Philadelphia Police Department on Friday on announced a new policy on handling trespassing calls after the arrests of two African-American men at a Starbucks sparked protests over racial bias.

Under the new policy, officers should "attempt to de-escalate and mediate the disturbance" between a property owner and accused trespasser and ask for a police supervisor at the scene "to avoid misuse of police authority by business owners and the appearance of any impropriety by the officers."


Additionally, the accused trespasser has to "know and understand that he/she is not allowed" on the property and defy an order to leave in the presence of police, according to the guideline. The owner must also sign a document confirming the intention to prosecute.

"While business owners may exclude persons from their establishments, they cannot misuse the authority of police officers in the process," said a memorandum on the new policy.

"Such misuse may lead to a technically lawful arrest, but can create the appearance of improprieties on behalf of the officers and the department."

An investigation by the internal affairs division found the officers "adhered to state law mandates and did not violate ... policy as it existed then," the department said in a statement.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is black, apologized to the men in April, saying he made the decision worse by initially defending his officers' actions.

"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 in a statement Friday.

The men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, reached agreements with the coffee store chain and the city last month, and have pledged to support a $200,000 effort to encourage young entrepreneurs.

On April 12, Robinson and Nelson asked to use the bathroom at the Starbucks as they waited for a business meeting but were told it was for paying customers only. They then occupied a table without making a purchase -- a common occurrence at the company's locations.

Within minutes of their arrival, a manager called police after the men declined to leave because, they said, they were waiting for an acquaintance.

The video of the arrests went viral. The men were not charged with a crime.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized for the arrests, calling them "reprehensible."

Starbucks, as part of the agreement, is also giving the men the opportunity to complete their undergraduate degrees for free through a partnership with Arizona State University.

The incident led to protests and reignited a national conversation over racial profiling. The mammoth coffee chain agreed to close its 8,000 company-owned stores in the United States on May 29 to educate employees about racial bias.