On rising crime in the City of Brotherly Love
The Editorial Board
For this week’s issue, the editorial board at the Collegian wanted to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming — covering issues closely related to the University, its students and its faculty — to discuss a broader topic that encompasses the entire community in which we live, the City of Philadelphia. It is no secret that rising homicides have been a struggle for the City of Brotherly Love for half of the last decade, but, in the last year, the city has reached a boiling point and, in lieu of answers to the problem, justice officials of the city have decided to shift blame.
Rising homicide rates in Philadelphia is an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly, no matter what part of the city we live in. A city’s patronage cannot be justified if it is not safe to patronize. How can parents justify sending their children to college in a city with a homicide rate that is up 41 percent from last year? How can businesses justify opening in communities where they are at a substantially greater risk of being subjected to property crime? From a fiscal standpoint, the safety of a city is congruent to economic viability and, in turn, financial stability of its citizens and the infrastructure they use every day. Municipalities need people to be safe and welcome to those who inhabit them; otherwise taxpayers will leave, and the loss of taxpayers hurts the people who cannot afford to leave the most. Now, from a moral standpoint, there is absolutely no justification for such a digression in reducing violent crime. Philadelphians are dying, and we need answers to how that is going to stop before things get worse.
Despite the Philadelphia Police Department making more arrests for illegal possession of firearms and gun violence reaching record highs, Larry Krasner’s DA’s office has overseen a record 48 percent case dismissal or withdrawal rate for illegal possession of firearms, up from 29 percent before he took office. One of Krasner’s hallmark efforts when first taking office centered around ending mass incarceration, but the question we need to ask ourselves as Philadelphians is: Have these policies backfired? We must strongly consider that as a possibility with homicide-related deaths rising from 356 in 2019 to 499 in 2020. That marked a 41 percent increase in homicide deaths, and there is already a 42 percent increase in homicide-related deaths this year compared to January and February of last year.
PPD Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has spoken at length to news sources about the topic and her statements have hinted at disconnect between stakeholders in the criminal justice department, meaning the police, judiciary and prosecutors, being to blame. On new lines of communication being made between the DA’s office and the PPD, Outlaw made it clear that there are problems in the justice system that need to be identified: “We’ve asked for an open and honest look — if there is something that fell short on the courtside or the DA’s office side — what were those things, and how can we ensure that moving forward maybe in the next few days that it doesn’t happen again?” Outlaw not only hinted at frustration with the other departments, but that communication has been an issue in the past — “This level of communication wasn’t happening but I think it’s important to make sure that we’re not only introspective but there has to be a quality assurance in the review of these cases because we cannot continue to see what we’ve seen.”
Back in August, Krasner defended his office on Fox 29’s Good Day Philadelphia amid criticism stemming from increasing gun violence: “[The Philadelphia Police Department is] making arrests, but let us be honest: When you have a solve rate — when you have what they call a clearance rate, meaning the police have identified the one who they believe is guilty — of 14 percent in July and 9 percent in August, there’s more that we can do together.”
As a Philadelphian, if the sparring match between District Attorney and PPD officials doesn’t anger you, then their reverberations should. Disconnect in our justice department has not only caused an uptick in violent crime, but a degradation of the criminal justice system at the ground level. A source at the Philadelphia Police Department agreed to speak on the morale and effectiveness of the Philadelphia Police Department on the condition of anonymity and what they had to say should upset anyone who is part of the Philadelphia community. According to the source, morale within the PPD is suffering:
“The main issue is [officers] do not feel as though they are supported by the district attorney, we arrest plenty of violent offenders but the DA doesn’t prosecute them, and the judicial system does not set proper bail. A lot of the violent offenders we take in committed violent acts while they were awaiting trial for another violent act.”
The perceived lack of support has resulted in the officers becoming reactive to crimes, rather than proactive in stopping them. Our source went on to depict the general mindset among officers at the PPD as one of reluctance as a result of lack of support, “Why should I go out of my way to make a proactive arrest or stop someone with a firearm in the car if no one is going to support that action?” Reluctance in officers to be proactive in investigations has placed more pressure on communities to make themselves safer.
We’ve seen this firsthand as the mayor’s office of violence prevention has sent officials knocking door-to-door, distributing literature and trying to build up trust between communities to aid in police investigations going forward. Shondell Revell, the executive director of the office and his team, known as the “Violence Disruptors,” were followed by NBC news reporters as they spoke to members of Philadelphia’s high-crime communities: “Resources… You know what I’m sayin [sic]? We’re tryna [sic] stop some of these shootings.”
The editorial board, all members of the Philadelphia community, can say with certainty that our community deserves better than door-to-door pleadings to “stop the shootings.” Our community deserves the right to walk the streets and reside in our homes with peace of mind that a stray bullet won’t make the second we are currently living in our last. The moment we are in right now is a watershed moment for the City of Philadelphia. We have been able to curb gun violence before and, in turn, keep people from dying; we can do it again. The onus cannot entirely be put on us, but we must demand more from bureaucrats, and we must pressure them to get results. Philadelphia is bleeding and, whether it be the police department, the court system or the district attorney’s office — or all of them together — our officials must take accountability to make it stop.
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