Last week, Philadelphia’s police department reported that criminal activity in the first three months of this year increased by double-digit percentages when compared with the same period in 2019—the most violent year since 2007. So far in 2020, property and violent crimes have spiked by 16 percent and 11 percent, respectively, with the largest increases in retail theft—which skyrocketed 59 percent, after district attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office wouldn’t prosecute that crime—and other serious violent offenses, such as aggravated assault, up by 20 percent.
Though the Philadelphia Inquirer has tried to downplay the spike in crime, statistics show that, even as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds, crime has increased overall, despite a slight dip during the city’s first full week of shutdowns. According to the city’s managing director, Brian Abernathy, the police department has deployed officers in more visible posts along commercial corridors to prevent property crime during the outbreak. This news, however, comes just a week after Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, newly transplanted from Portland, announced that her department—in response to the pandemic—will no longer make arrests for all narcotics offenses; thefts from persons, retail, and autos; burglaries, vandalism, and fraud; and prostitution. In addition, she announced a moratorium on bench-warrant arrests. The relaxed enforcement is motivated by health concerns for officers and inmates.
In an internal memo, Outlaw stated that officers should “temporarily detain the offender for the length of time required to confirm identity (this may require the deployment of mobile fingerprint scanners); prepare all relevant paper work; [and] release offender.” Then, once the alleged criminal is released back on the streets, the department sends an arrest-warrant affidavit to the district attorney’s charging unit. If the charges are approved, detectives will obtain arrest warrants to “be served at a later time.” Outlaw continued: “If an officer believes that releasing the offender would pose a threat to public safety, the officer will notify a supervisor, who will review the totality of the circumstances and utilize discretion, in the interests of public safety, in determining the appropriate course of action.”
These policies will perpetuate Philadelphia’s violent-crime problems. Last week, a shooting targeted a man at a birthday party. Those shot included a one-year-old, 14-year-old, and four others. The reports of daily shootings continue, some in traditionally safe neighborhoods. It seems like violent crime is the only “business” surging in Philadelphia during the Covid-19 crisis.
Though decarceration and non-enforcement amid the pandemic aren’t unique to Philadelphia, the district attorney has attracted attention for his aggressively progressive tactics. Prior to becoming DA, Krasner was a wealthy defense lawyer who occasionally represented protest groups like Black Lives Matter. He had sued the police department some 75 times before running for office, branding the law-enforcement community he now leads as “systemically racist.” He supported aggressive decarceration policies. Since winning election in November 2017, with the help of financial backing from George Soros, he has not changed his approach, even after the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.
Crime has steadily risen in Philadelphia during Krasner’s tenure. He opposes cash bail and sends numerous violent criminals to diversionary programs called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). Some of the results: a video-recorded shooting of a store clerk with an AK-47 by an offender with multiple priors; a barricaded siege-and-hostage situation resulting in the nonfatal shootings of six police officers; and the recent murder of a decorated Philadelphia SWAT team corporal by a suspect with warrants and parole violations. His policies have already earned Krasner the scrutiny of the state supreme court, state and federal attorneys general, the U.S. Attorney, and President Donald Trump.
Krasner’s office is also embroiled in ethics scandals. He has found himself the subject of litigation for firing 31 prosecutors in his first weeks in office. A year later, those seasoned employees were replaced by progressive college graduates who couldn’t pass the bar exam. In addition, Krasner was sued for terminating the Victim Services Chief, Tami Levin, and replacing her with Movita Johnson-Harrell, a campaign donor and now-incarcerated politician. He also hired a former creditor of the DA’s office for a position with a $160,000 annual salary.
The DA’s office has been exposed for harassment and violating the civil rights of veteran police detective Derrick “Jake” Jacobs; appointing a disbarred lawyer to its senior staff; and plea bargaining or dismissing violent-crime charges in politically contentious cases—without consulting witnesses—for crimes ranging from domestic assault to homicide. It’s no surprise, then, that Krasner’s office is accused of resisting legally filed public-records requests into its activities.
Yet Philadelphia’s rising crime can’t be attributed solely to a dysfunctional district attorney. Mayor Jim Kenney recently began criticizing Krasner’s policies, but his hiring practices only compound the problem. Kenney replaced the well-respected police commissioner Richard Ross, for example, with Outlaw, who came from one of America’s most progressive cities. Under the new commissioner, Philadelphia’s law-enforcement community may feel less motivated to pursue criminals.
In order for Philadelphia to become a safer place to live, work, and visit, the city must encourage transparency in law enforcement, from the police department to the DA’s office. Criminal-justice reform shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of community safety. Philadelphia needs to adopt proven crime-control and prevention strategies while giving second chances to former offenders who have proved themselves rehabilitated.
The city’s current tactic of refusing to enforce the law endangers public safety, and its leading newspaper’s attempt to soft-pedal these realities insults the intelligence of Philadelphians, who know enough to trust what they see with their own eyes.
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