Like many cities around the country, Philadelphia’s homicide rate is soaring this year. There’ve been more than 400 homicides so far in 2020 compared to 356 murders in all of 2019, which was the most violent year that the city had seen in a decade. Now the city’s on pace for the most homicides since 2007, but even as the murder numbers go up, the number of arrests are going down.
NBC 4 in Philly reports that while police in the city have struggled to clear cases for years, they haven’t seen numbers this low in some time. So far fewer than 30% of the city’s homicides this year have led to an arrest.
The clearance rate is even worse when looking at non-fatal shootings, or those in which the victim survives. Only 16% of the 1,300 non-fatal shootings this year have been cleared.
Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Ben Naish overseeing investigations, including gun crimes, said police are overwhelmed with the surge in shootings. He blames COVID-19 and the summer’s civil unrest.
“I think it’s fair to say there became this sense of lawlessness,” Naish said.
If people think they can get away with something, they’re more likely to do it, and Philadelphia’s criminals have little fear of consequences at the moment. Even worse, as NBC 4 reported, once an arrest has been made there’s a good chance the charges will be dropped before a trial.
Since District Attorney Larry Krasner took office in 2018, the percentage of gun crime cases that are either withdrawn or dismissed have gone up from 30% in 2018 to 40% in 2020. And those numbers are a far drop from 2015 when the dismissal and withdrawal rate was 18%.
Krasner said shooting cases are tough to prove in court if witnesses are reluctant to testify. Some witnesses simply don’t trust the system, he said.
But even in cases where witnesses do come forward and testify in court, the judge may still find the case has insufficient evidence to move forward.
What Krasner says is true, but that still doesn’t explain why the conviction rate for violent crimes has dropped under his watch. Unreal as it might sound, at the moment there are more cases that are being dismissed or withdrawn right now than going to trial or resulting in a plea deal, including nearly 53% of robbery cases that are dropped by the DA’s office.
Krasner deflected when asked if the low clearance and conviction rate is contributing to the increased gun violence by emboldening shooters.
“I think our police commissioner is doing the best she can,” Krasner said. “I don’t want to say they are emboldened. But I do want to say that we are ready to shoulder the burden with the police department to solve these cases more quickly.”
Naish, the deputy commissioner, said that more so than statistics, shooters are driven by a lack of valuing life.
“Yes, there’s a sense of I’m not going to get caught but more so than that is a sense of I don’t care,” he said.
Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens who want to get a concealed carry license so that they can protect themselves from carefree criminals are being told to drop off their application in a year, because of the backlog of permit applications. Gun Owners of America has sued the city over the unconscionable delays, which have left gun owners in a legal limbo; unable to legally protect themselves on the streets while criminals are literally getting away with murder.