Philly to unveil long-awaited update to its plan to fight gun violence in April

Activists hung caution tape around City Hall in Philadelphia on March 26, 2021, to bring the crime scenes they witness in their neighborhoods to city officials’ work place. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Activists hung caution tape around City Hall in Philadelphia on March 26, 2021, to bring the crime scenes they witness in their neighborhoods to city officials’ work place. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday that the next iteration of his administration’s anti-violence strategy will be released the second week of April, when he is set to deliver his next budget proposal. The administration was expected to outline the long-anticipated update to the plan — Philadelphia’s Roadmap to Safer Communities — during a news conference on gun violence Wednesday afternoon before the agenda was unexpectedly changed.

The delay is rooted in budget logistics, said Kenney.

“In light of the federal aid the city has received from the American Rescue Plan and the fact that in two weeks I’ll present a budget and five-year plan to City Council, we decided until budget week to share the full scope of our updates,” said Kenney. “I believe you’ll see the fuller picture this way.”

Philadelphia is set to receive $1.4 billion in aid through President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. As part of President Biden’s new $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal announced Wednesday, he wants to devote $5 billion over eight years to support evidence-based community violence prevention programs.

In February, city officials told reporters that Philadelphia was facing an estimated $450 million budget shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This after making steep budget cuts in 2020 to offset a $650 million budget hole. 

The rollout of Roadmap 2.0, the first update to the two-year-old plan, will also come during a historic surge in shootings and homicides that’s putting Philadelphia on pace to set a new single-year record for homicides.

At least 120 people have been murdered so far this year, a 26% increase over the same time last year, the deadliest in three decades. Since 1960, the city has never recorded more than 500 murders.

More than 460 people have been shot, including 48 under the age of 18.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw during Monday’s press conference, the second in a series of a bi-weekly briefings devoted entirely to how the city is addressing its gun violence epidemic.

Released in January 2019, the roadmap is the Kenney administration’s five-year plan for reducing gun violence in Philadelphia.

Billed as a public health strategy, the plan calls for increasing graduation rates and reducing truancy; creating job opportunities for at-risk youth and youth adults; having a public health infrastructure focused on violence prevention; and reducing structural violence in high-risk neighborhoods. Philadelphia City Council has criticized leaders of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention for lacking urgency in implementing these programs.

The strategy also seeks to improve “environmental factors” by doing things like greening more vacant lots and enforcing property violations in neighborhoods at high risk for violence, as well as rehabbing recreational facilities.

Dr. Ruth Abaya, who manages the Health Department’s Injury Prevention Program, said Monday that the public health framework for the updated strategy is grounded in three phases of gun violence: “pre-event”, “event,” and “post-event.” It will address retaliatory shootings, as well as environmental factors such as blight, among other things.

“The vast majority of our capital we would like to see spent on the pre-event phase, so before violence occurs if we want to take a truly public health, preventative approach,” said Abaya.

It comes as Outlaw told a City Council committee on Tuesday that the police department is focusing its resources on enforcement, rather than on prevention or violence interruption, despite having more funding than other city departments that deal with gun violence.

Philadelphia’s Office of Violence Prevention has a roughly $9.4 million budget, compared to $725 million for the police department.

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

Despite the influx of federal dollars from Congress, Kenney’s proposed budget is expected to stoke conflict as the administration seeks to balance public safety needs against the social justice agenda he announced last year following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Kenney is scheduled to deliver his budget address on April 15.

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