Philly Councilmembers call for a ‘bold investment’ to fight gun violence

Police tape marks off a crime scene near Olney Transportation Center

Eight people were injured in a Feb. 17 shooting near Olney Transportation Center in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Several members of Philadelphia City Council want to see more funding for anti-violence programs in the next fiscal year and beyond, as the city says gun violence has become the leading cause of death among young Black and Latino men.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is proposing an additional $70 million for anti-violence efforts over the next five years. The money would be used to expand a pair of violence prevention programs, bolster the city’s blight remediation efforts, and launch a transitional jobs program, among other priorities.

On Monday, during the first of several budget hearings, half a dozen City Councilmembers told administration officials that more investment is needed given the level of gun violence Philadelphia is experiencing.

At least 668 people have been shot so far this year, a nearly 40% increase over the same time last year, the deadliest in three decades.

“We fully, and without caution, invest in traditional systems of public safety, but do not make the same bold investments in violence prevention or opportunities for our youth,” said City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. “What would it look like for instance to invest $250 million or even $500 million additional dollars over five years?”

City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson called for more funding for community-based anti-violence groups, programs offering youth summer employment opportunities, as well as the city’s network of parks and recreation centers — particularly those located in neighborhoods considered high-risk for gun violence.

“Every day, either we go to bed or wake up and we’ll see some young person, some female being shot and murdered here in the streets of Philadelphia,” said Johnson.

City Councilmember Allan Domb echoed his colleague’s sentiments, calling gun violence the “number one issue” for Philadelphia.

Responding to Gauthier, Jim Engler, Kenney’s chief of staff, said that spending upwards of $500 million on anti-violence efforts would likely lead to cuts and layoffs in other city departments.

Erica Atwood, senior director for the Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety, acknowledged that there is “probably never enough money to invest in community organizations.”

Funding for anti-violence programming will resurface next week when the Managing Director’s Office is slated to testify before City Council. The office oversees Town Watch Integrated Services, the Office of Violence Prevention, the Office of Violence Prevention and the Office of Reentry Partnerships, among other things. It’s also responsible for managing the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities, the administration’s five-year strategic plan for reducing gun violence.

The administration wants to flat-fund the Philadelphia Police Department at $727 million next fiscal year, but spend $4 billion on the department over the next five years.

“We’ve tried to make tactical, important investments in things that Philadelphians care about, things like street-sweeping, additional investments in education, and across the board,” said Engler.

“We’re trying to have a balanced approach that accomplishes some shared goals that we have together to make Philadelphia more competitive, more resilient, and a better place to live.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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