Philly puts prosecutors in police divisions to help tackle gun-violence

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (Aaron Moselle / WHYY)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (Aaron Moselle / WHYY)

As part of a new strategic plan to interrupt Philadelphia’s bloody cycle of shootings, two city prosecutors are now embedded in each of the police department’s six divisions.

The Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office have always worked together, but detectives and assistant district attorneys have never collaborated on cases while working out of the same space — in the section of the city where the crime was committed.

The hope is that the co-working arrangement will help the city solve more homicides, non-fatal shootings, and other cases involving serious offenses. The program, patterned off an initiative in Chicago, is also focused on helping victims of gun violence, as well as preventing it from happening in the first place.

“The most important thing that we can do is build community at the same time we are also focusing on law enforcement. If you shoot people, you need to be in jail. If you kill people, you need to be in jail,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner during a Friday news conference to formally announce the initiative.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, who became the city’s top cop in February, did not attend the event in West Philadelphia. In a statement, she said the new program will provide “greater focus, attention, and consistency” to investigations and prosecutions, resulting in the removal of the “most dangerous offenders from our precious communities.”

The Gun Crimes Strategies & Prevention Collaborative was quietly launched about a month ago, as the number of non-fatal shootings and murders continued to stack up despite the stay-at-home orders the city put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As of June 21, the most recent date for which data was available, the police department had recorded 1,388 shootings — a roughly 19% increase compared to the same time last year.

To date, the city has 193 murders on the books — a 21% increase compared to the same time in 2019, putting Philadelphia on track to record a fourth-straight year with well over 300 homicides.

The totals for 2020 include a violent three-hour period in late May where 12 people were shot, three fatally, in seven separate incidents around the city, including a 14 year-old boy.

Roughly two weeks later, five people were shot in less than an hour in Southwest Philadelphia.

The activists and elected officials who bunched behind a podium in West Philadelphia on Friday said that kind of bloodshed necessitated the city to take a new approach to reducing the number of people hurt by gun violence each year — directly and indirectly.

State Rep. Joanna McClinton (Aaron Moselle / WHYY)

“When we see on the news of a murder occurring, it’s not just that one person that they’re showing in the news, it’s a rippling effect that goes throughout the whole family,” said Stanley Crawford, who leads the Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia.

Crawford started the group after his son was shot and killed outside of his sister’s house in 2018. And he wants others to come forward to help the city’s top law enforcement agencies  save the next family from going through the same pain.

“We specifically in the Black community have to come together and work together because it’s our family members that’s constantly going into the grave,” he said.

Commissioner Outlaw has previously said she wants to raise the department’s homicide clearance rate, the percentage of killings that are solved, to 65%. The rate currently hovers around 50%. The national average is 60%.

Those benchmarks are outlined in the department’s Crime Prevention & Violence Reduction Action Plan, which was released Friday.

The department also wants to increase the clearance rate for non-fatal shooting victims to 30% by the end of 2021.

“Regardless of the ebbs and flows we undoubtedly will face, there is an absolute urgency to comprehensively address violent crime, specifically gun violence that disparately impacts our communities,” said Outlaw in a letter introducing the data-driven plan.

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