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‘We’re looking for you,’ Philly police commish tells shooters as murders exceed all of 2019

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 6:14 p.m.

The number of people murdered in Philadelphia has reached a 10-year high with three months left in 2020.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw addressed the city’s 363 homicides — already surpassing the 356 homicides the city saw in all of 2019 — and gave a warning to violent criminals.

“We’re doing our part,” said Outlaw. “We’re making arrests. We’re looking for you as soon as we get the data or the intelligence that leads us where we need to be. We’re also doing everything that we can within our purview to communicate to our prosecutorial bodies that consequences must occur.”

Outlaw offered the public a glimpse into what police are doing to deter the violence. She said a data-driven method of policing called “Operation Pinpoint,” which targets the most frequent offenders, yielded a 10% reduction in homicides across the city over the past 28 days.

Arrests for violations of the state’s Uniform Firearms Act and narcotics arrests are also up in certain targeted districts, she said.

“We want to save as many lives as possible,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “I think 10% is substantial in a month and if we can keep that trend going we’ll start to drive those numbers down.”

Still, six people were killed on Monday alone, including a 15-year-old in South Philadelphia, and more than 1,600 people have been shot in the city so far this year.

Outlaw said police are just one piece in the efforts to reduce gun violence and homicides. While intervention could look like giving people job training or counseling, she said shooters need to face consequences for their actions.

“What we’re seeing is a pattern and a trend among those shooting victims or offenders who have history for similar types of crimes,” she said. “They’ve either been arrested for [Violation of Uniform Firearms Act] before, they’ve been a victim of a shooting before or they’ve shot someone in the past and they’re out and about being allowed to re-offend.”

Outlaw said that’s where communicating with the district attorney’s office and prosecutors come into play.

As far as the cause of the surge in homicides this year, Outlaw said it was unclear, though she pointed to court closures during the coronavirus pandemic and a perception that there would be no consequences for criminals as possible reasons.

Ben Naish, Deputy Commissioner for Patrol Operations, said the city needs people who’ve witnessed shootings to come forward.

“We need witnesses to feel like they can provide information,” Naish said. “And I understand the concern of how can we ensure their safety and we can do it if we all come together as a community.”

On Monday, Philadelphia’s Office of Violence Prevention — which has come under scrutiny from some city councilmembers for not acting with enough urgency — released a list of 10 things the city is doing to combat the violence. The list includes Operation Pinpoint, as well as a program called Group Violence Intervention, which launched in August, and pairing two assistant district attorneys with police during violent crime investigations.

Interim Managing Director Tumar Alexander said the city could be doing a better job at letting residents know what it’s doing to combat gun violence.

One additional solution proposed by 14 members of City Council is declaring gun violence a citywide emergency. Kenney said while declaring an emergency sounds effective, it could also create curfews that “would hamper people’s ability to move around.”

“There are actual issues we’d have to work out to see what a state of emergency means,” Kenney said.

At a press conference with community leaders in Nicetown Tuesday afternoon, District Attorney Larry Krasner pitched voting as a way to address some of the economic factors and legal loopholes that make guns more accessible he says contribute to violence.

“The truth is, if you want some laws that are going to regulate guns the way we regulate cars all the time, then you’re going to need some new people in office,” he said.

To stop the closing of recreation centers, the end of summer job programs and the gutting of education in Philadelphia — all actions speakers said contribute to people picking up guns —  Krasner said residents need to vote new people into federal office.

“If you want a city where there is economic opportunity, then you need a federal government that is going to bail out big cities,” he said.

Find a list of resources for people affected by gun violence here.

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