In the interest of creating a public safety agenda for Philadelphia, Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. hosted a two-day “crime summit” last week at Saint Joseph’s University that brought together representatives from all aspects of the criminal justice system and beyond.
Along with Jones, headliners included Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and District Attorney Seth Williams, along with politicians and professors, judges and prison officials, along with social workers. Rev. Terrence D. Griffith, president of The Black Clergy of Philadelphia, served as keynote speaker at Wednesday’s session.
Starting a dialogue
As chair of City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, Jones felt that fostering a dialogue between law enforcement officials, academics, and community leaders was necessary to come to terms with crime, a belief reinforced by the two day summit.
Noting that, to his knowledge, never had so many experts united in the city for so frank a discussion, he said, “It became very apparent over those two days that people have to talk to each other.”
Serving as a backdrop for the event was the tragic school shooting in Connecticut that occurred only days prior.”It was tragic, yet fortuitous,” said Jones, as it forced both officials and the public to recognize that there is a larger societal problem with gun violence, “not just an urban, brown or Latino problem.”
‘Time will be the test’
Teaming with Jones and St. Joseph’s to sponsor the summit was GunCrisis, the Philadelphia-centered journalism project that is examining violent crime in the city and beyond through a multimedia lens.
Jim MacMillan, a founding member of GunCrisis, said that Jones’ staff first reached out to his organization several months ago, with several subsequent meetings taking place, focusing largely on media strategy.
“They also asked me about programming but they were way ahead of me on that front already,” said MacMillan.Asked for his impressions of the summit, MacMillan said that he experienced “a remarkably comprehensive discussion of every socioeconomic aspect affecting violent crime,” with both presenters and audience members proposing numerous proposals.
While he withheld a specific endorsement of the summit, MacMillan underscored the mission of GunCrisis, noting that it is a “solutions-oriented” project, striving to illuminate both gun violence and new opportunities to reduce violence.
“Time will be the test of real outcomes,” he said in regard to the summit, “but everyone seemed mindful of that.”
A call to action
With the conclusion of the summit, Jones expects a policy blueprint will be developed, one that will inform future public safety spending, which he noted occupies one-third of the city’s budget.
In the short term, he said administrators from St. Joseph’s University have pledged to synthesize the conclusions yielded. In addition, Jones expressed enthusiasm for the progress being made by programs such as GunStat, a multi-agency city initiative designed to take the most dangerous criminals off of Philadelphia’s streets.
Jones also recognized that quality of life indicators such as good businesses and safe schools, which contribute to a thriving city, are threatened by illegal activity.
“Until we address crime,” he said, “all these other aspects of life are in jeopardy.”