Philly could set new record for homicides, officials say during first gun violence briefing

The Kenney administration held its first long-promised public briefing on the city’s gun violence epidemic. Here’s what happened.

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at Olney Transportation Center, where a mass shooting occurred on Feb. 17, 2021. He joined local and state officials in calling for legislative and executive action to stop gun violence. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia is experiencing an ongoing surge in fatal shootings that could set a new record at the end of 2021: the deadliest year in city history when it comes to homicides.

At least 103 people have been murdered so far this year, a 30% increase over the same time last year. Police say most homicides can be traced back to an argument, drugs, or domestic disputes.

More than 380 people have been shot fatally or non-fatally, including 40 children, according to police.

“The number of guns that are on the street is irrational and crazy,” said Mayor Jim Kenney during the city’s first public briefing on how it’s responding to gun violence.

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These briefings, which will now happen every two weeks, come roughly six months after City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier calling on the Kenney administration to host regular public updates on gun violence — similar to the way the city hosts COVID-19 briefings each week.

Today’s briefing was a very important first step, and I am beyond grateful that Mayor Kenney and his team have committed to providing this service regularly,” said Gauthier in a statement. “I’m very glad the Administration is communicating about this crisis comprehensively, and not just from a law enforcement perspective.”

“That being said, moving forward, I would like the briefings to emanate more from a public health perspective. For example, that could mean linking the causal data shared by the Police Department to prevention and intervention strategies,” she added. “I would also like to see information presented in a way that is more accessible to the general public, and to have the briefings televised like the weekly COVID updates are. These briefings should also be thought of as key opportunities to offer immediate resources to the public, and in turn help alleviate  the gun violence crisis.”

A mayoral spokesperson said the briefings will be televised on channel 64 and posted to the city’s YouTube page after they occur, “but not air live on 64 due to studio scheduling/staffing limitations.”

Kenney, whose administration has been criticized for lacking a sense of urgency on the issue, verbally committed to holding the briefings during a face-to-face meeting with anti-violence activist Jamal Johnson, who held a one-man hunger strike outside of City Hall with hopes of forcing the mayor’s hand on the council resolution.

The administration announced it would begin hosting bi-weekly updates on gun violence in the wake of a mass shooting in Olney that occurred in broad daylight and left eight people injured.

“It’s painfully clear that we must take new approaches. And while we know these briefings will not solve the crisis, it’s important for the public to hear about our strategies and know that we take this very seriously,” said Kenney.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Wednesday that her department is also on track to “shatter” last year’s record for the number of guns officers recovered from the streets.

In 2020, officers recovered roughly 5,000 crime guns — guns that were either used in a crime, suspected of being used in a crime, or illegally owned.

So far this year, officers have recovered nearly 1,270 crime guns.

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“And we’re only in March,” Outlaw said.

“We’ve been taking them out of people’s hands on a regular basis since the beginning of this year and all of last year,” Kenney said. “But it seems though that the supply continues to exceed our ability to get them out of people’s hands.

“We need some help,” he added.

In addition to remarks from Kenney and Outlaw, Wednesday’s briefing also provided a breakdown of crime statistics, as well as an overview of the administration’s anti-violence efforts to date.

Future briefings will also feature Health Department officials, as well as community anti-violence partners, among others.

The next briefing is scheduled for March 30.

Erica Atwood, senior director for the Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety, said Wednesday that she will outline the updated version of the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities, a five-year strategic plan released in January 2019 to address the city’s persistent gun violence epidemic.

Touted as a public health strategy, the plan is guided by an ambitious vision statement: that “every Philadelphian will be safe from gun violence in their communities, with full access to opportunities to create their path to a fulfilling life.”

It calls for increasing graduation rates and reducing truancy; creating job opportunities for at-risk youth and young adults; having a public health infrastructure focused on violence prevention, and reducing structural violence in high-risk neighborhoods.

City officials have said Roadmap 2.0 will include goals based on creating geographically-tailored plans for addressing gun violence, as well as a call to have conversations with area hospitals about what services and interventions may be useful for shooting victims upon their release.

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