The PPD said it’s a recurring problem at the popular tourist destination. Others wondered why the issue deserved scarce law enforcement resources.
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Philadelphia police handcuffed a man outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday afternoon. He was escorted down the steps and into a police car just before 2 p.m., arrested on charges of solicitation, according to a PPD spokesperson.
A reporter saw the man sitting alone on the terrace at the top of the famous steps when an officer approached him and demanded he show ID. A spirited conversation ensued, and the man refused to show his identification, claiming he’d done nothing wrong.
Within minutes, a larger group of police officers arrived at the scene. They escorted the man to the bottom of the steps, where he was handcuffed and forced into a police car.
Asked about the arrest by Nina Ahmad, a former candidate for statewide office, Police Public Information Officer Eric Gripp said solicitation was a common problem at the city’s tourist attractions. The front of the Art Museum is a popular destination, and several other people snapped pics of the picturesque city skyline views while the altercation was taking place.
“Unfortunately, this is an ongoing issue,” Gripp wrote in an email, which Ahmad posted on Twitter. “Individuals will hang out on the art museum steps (or by the Rocky statue) and offer to take pictures for visitors/tourists. Once they have your phone and take the picture — they’ll ask for a ‘tip’ or ‘donation’ to get the phone back.”
Ahmad, as well as other social media commenters and bystanders at the scene, questioned why cops were expending resources on photo solicitation at the Art Museum, rather than tackling pressing city issues, like rising shooting and homicide rates. As of Friday, police had recorded 36% more murders in Philadelphia in 2021 than last year to date.
“Will he have access to capital to set up his tourist business, get a license etc. to do legitimate business?” Ahmad asked. “So many ways to stop this over-policing and spend resources on solving the gun violence [crisis].”
The primary officer, whose badge identified him as Ofc. Donahue, initially told the man the problem was that he was taking photos, according to a reporter who overheard the conversation. Then Ofc. Donahue clarified the issue was soliciting money in return for photography. The man denied he had solicited money for photos. Asked how the police knew money was being solicited, Ofc. Donahue said proof would appear on footage from security cameras that could be accessed from inside the museum.
PPD did not return Billy Penn’s requests for comment after the incident. The department did later issue a statement via Twitter, claiming Donahue called for assistance because “a crowd was beginning to form.”
The officers involved “are regularly assigned” to the Art Museum area, the police statement said. The steps in front of the museum are under city governance, according to a Philadelphia Museum of Art spokesperson, who said the cultural institution oversees the use of the terrace.
City spokesperson Maita Soukup clarified in an email that the steps are actually considered part of Fairmount Park.
“Regulations for Fairmount Park … prohibit solicitation on park land. They also prohibit commercial activity, including commercial photography and the vending or sale of any goods or services on park land without specific written permission for such activity,” Soukup said.
The city requires certain types of photographers, like wedding photographers, to secure a permit before taking photos at public places. However, the Art Museum is considered one of Philly’s “most Instagrammable places” by Visit Philly, and observers note this rule is seldom enforced for tourists and patrons.
According to police, the person apprehended was taken to 9th Police District headquarters, issued a Code Violation Notice citation — aka a ticket — and then released.