357 people were killed in 2019 — most by gunfire. Shootings also spiked, to more than 1500 victims. "We all want the number of shootings to be coming down, not going up," said District Attorney Larry Krasner. "We all want the number of homicides to be coming down, and we don’t see it."
With coordination from city judges, the District Attorney‘s office is trying to ramp up the speed on non-fatal shooting cases in Philly courtrooms.
"This is a way my office can have an impact in its lane," Krasner said, "which is to try to come up with systems within the court to take what might be a year-long process of resolving a shooting case and turn it into more like six months. That’s how the message gets back to witnesses and survivors, that they can testify and it will be resolved soon. That’s how the message gets back to other people who may be in disputes between neighborhoods."
Which he hopes drives down the number of people shot.
Krasner rejected the notion that his policies, including lighter sentences and plea deals, are what perpetuate city violence. "Every study indicates that when punishment is certain — and that really is more the role of the police to apprehend, but fortunately we are seeing the clearance rate increase — that can do something and then the swiftness of punishment can do something," he said. "What doesn’t do anything is having a sentence that is much longer or much shorter, that has no impact."
Instead, Krasner pointed to the largest problems of poverty, lack of education and jobs.
"I respect everyone’s opinion, but I think opinions should be based on facts, and I believe that the facts support our fundamental point, which that these problems are structural, they have been structural for a long time," he maintained. "When enormous problems have not been solved for many many years, issues just dont go away by adding yet more police officers to the 4th largest police force in the 6th largest city in the United States. You have to look at the fundamental causes of the problems and compare yourself to cities where they do have an economy that is doing better. They have put tens of millions of dollars into community-based organizations, they have managed to improve the level of educational achievement because that’s where the real long term answers lie."
This spring, city officials are expected to roll out a revamped version of what was known as "focused deterrence" — which stemmed from Operation Ceasefire, a Boston-based gun initiative. Krasner called it the "Kennedy method" after its senior author, criminologist David M. Kennedy.
"To target groups that are in a combative relationship and do the kinds of things that can be supportive, and has worked in some other cities to reduce the number of shootings and number of killings," he explained.
Krasner noted the homicide rates have been steadily increasing over the years, and that the homicide rate was the highest in 2007, when tough-on-crime Lynne Abraham was in office.
"Anyone who is feeling so hopeless or so angry or so desperate that they are running around with a gun needs to bear in mind that this is the worst thing you can do for your community," he cautioned. "It’s the worst thing you can do for yourself, it’s the worst thing you can do for your future. A lot of people, including people you dont even know, including your children are counting on you, not to be in custody, to be out there to provide for them to support them, to be a model for them."