Unlike Philadelphia itself, which just set a new record for the number of homicides in one year, violent crime and homicides in the suburb of Chester, Pennsylvania are headed in the right direction. What makes this particularly newsworthy isn’t just Chester’s proximity to the unchecked violence in the City of Brotherly Love, but the fact that just a few years ago Chester’s per capita homicide rate was the third-highest in the United States. Compounding the problem was the fact that the homicide clearance rate was well below 50%, meaning most of the perpetrators responsible were literally getting away with murder.
Officials in Chester and Delaware County are now touting the city’s turnaround, which didn’t come as the result of some new gun law. In fact, while Pennsylvania’s anti-gun politicians have long proclaimed there’s no way to address violent crime without imposing criminal penalties on the right to keep and bear arms (though the politicians themselves are more likely to refer to those policies as “common sense gun safety regulations”, what’s worked in Chester is simply focusing on the most prolific and violent offenders.
The biggest boon to Chester in recent months has been the Chester Partnerships for Safe Neighborhoods, a program run by District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer that uses the so-called focused deterrence model of targeting the small number of residents committing the bulk of the gun violence in the city. Since the program’s inception in November 2020, homicides in Chester decreased by 38%, and the police department’s murder-clearance rate is a record-setting 57%.
The announcement of those numbers Tuesday came after a roundtable discussion in Chester City Hall attended by Stollsteimer, Delaware County councilmembers, and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
“When you invest in collaboration and you invest in real accountability for the people who are wreaking havoc in our communities, that has results and makes our communities safer,” Shapiro said.
It’s rich to see Shapiro’s quote, since he’s usually one of the first Democrats in Pennsylvania to use violent crime to push for more gun control laws. And while I’d love to think that Shapiro’s now seen the light, my guess he was simply tailoring his comments for the occasion and hasn’t really changed his mind about casting a wide net of new restrictions over law-abiding gun owners in the hopes of ensnaring a violent criminal or two along the way.
We’ll see soon enough just how willing the AG is to flip flop on the issue depending on his audience since Shapiro is currently the only Democrat running for governor in Pennsylvania. If Shapiro truly believes that focused deterrence is the best way to reduce violent crime, then he should be willing to say so no matter if he’s talking to suburban moms, rural gun owners, or urban violence interrupters. Not only that, he should acknowledge that creating more non-violent, possessory offenses out of our Second Amendment rights isn’t going to do anything but put the wrong people behind bars.
Of course, if he did that Josh Shapiro probably wouldn’t be running for governor as a Democrat. Still, there’s nothing inherently conservative or “right wing” about focused deterrence. In fact, programs like Operation Ceasefire, which has a solid track record of reducing homicides and shootings using focused deterrence on the part of police combined with community-based interventions, originally were developed in collaboration between mostly left-wing academics and mostly right-wing cops. That was more than 20 years ago, unfortunately, and since then the Democrats have moved so much further to the left that any crime fighting strategy that involves policing is viewed with suspicion if not outright hostility by most progressives.
But as the data out of Chester (and Dallas, and Miami-Dade, and even St. Louis) demonstrates, the secret to a safer society isn’t really a secret at all. It doesn’t require hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending, or a single new gun control law, and that, I suspect, is why focused deterrence efforts aren’t a favored strategy for most Democratic politicians. They’d rather have the gun control laws, even if they don’t reduce crime at all. In fact, the failure of one law becomes a handy excuse for the passage of more restrictions. The result is a vicious cycle of more crime and less freedom, and frankly there are a lot of communities like Chester who need to buck that trend and focus on the relatively few numbers of very violent offenders instead of criminalizing our Second Amendment freedoms in the name of public safety.