Violence interrupters, police will try to keep the peace over Memorial Day weekend

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw addresses the press

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw joined law enforcement in Philadelphia to announce greater effort from federal agencies to prosecute gun violence offenders in the city on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In an effort to quell gun violence this Memorial Day weekend, Philadelphia will deploy dozens of violence interrupters to high-risk neighborhoods with hopes of stopping shootings before they happen.

A total of 35 staffers with the city’s Community Crisis Intervention Program will be available Friday and Saturday to identify and respond to potentially violent conflicts.

A smaller group will be on standby on Sunday and Monday, when the program typically doesn’t have teams working.

“If there are incidents, if we get wind of something that is happening, they will then go out,” said Erica Atwood, who leads the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, during Wednesday’s biweekly briefing on the gun violence epidemic.

The news comes as city officials and police brace for what could be another violent holiday weekend amid a historic surge in gun violence in Philadelphia.

More than 800 people have been shot so far this year, including more than 80 children under the age of 18, according to police.

At least 208 people have been murdered so far this year, putting the city on pace to set a new single-year record for homicides.

Starting this weekend, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said her department will be increasing patrols in neighborhoods across the city, including at recreation centers.

Officers will also conduct more security checks along business corridors and patrol crime “hot spots” throughout the city, she added.

“As an agency tasked with public safety, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone can enjoy the summer weather as safely as possible,” Outlaw said.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Atwood also announced her office would be awarding microgrants to another round of community anti-violence groups as part of the city’s Targeted Community Investment Grants program.

Applications for grants ranging between $1,500 and $50,000 will be accepted between June 1 and July 23. Organizations selected for funding will “see their programs begin in the Fall of 2021,” according to the city.

“Special emphasis will be placed on funding programs that can meet the mentorship, educational, employment, and trauma-informed care needs of young men between the ages of 16 and 34 in the areas most vulnerable to high instances of gun violence,” Atwood said.

Additionally, Philadelphia City Solicitor Diana Cortes announced Wednesday that oral arguments in its lawsuit against the Pennsylvania General Assembly over state preemption laws will be heard virtually on June 9 in Commonwealth Court.

In the lawsuit, the city is asking a judge to invalidate a set of regulations under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act so it and other municipalities are free to pass their own measures aimed at curbing gun violence.

“The General Assembly has not only blocked cities from enacting its own gun laws, but it has also refused to enact sensible gun regulations at the state level,” Cortes said.

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