Report looks at crime in Philadelphia, offers few solutions

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Crime has been bad all over the place. We’ve all seen both the news reports and the hard data supporting that claim. One place it’s been particularly bad is Philadelphia.

Time and time again, we’ve seen how ugly it’s gotten in the City of Brotherly Love, and anytime crime gets bad, someone will demand solutions to it.

However, far too often, solutions get offered up without anyone really understanding the problem. To Philadelphia’s credit, they took a moment or two so as to look into the problem first. Now, they’ve issued a report on what they’ve found.

Half of the shootings in Philadelphia in recent years were sparked by arguments. Most of the guns used in crimes in the city were bought in Pennsylvania. And many suspected shooters and victims had previously been arrested or received mental health services from the city. The majority had also witnessed violence.

Meanwhile, as gun crimes have reached record heights in Philadelphia — a crisis that has overwhelmingly affected communities of color — thousands of cases remain unsolved, while gun-possession prosecutions increasingly fail in court.

Those were some of the findings outlined in a report released Thursday by a host of city officials in response to Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic. The 194-page study, commissioned in 2020 by City Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr., was designed to provide a variety of perspectives on the issue, and it includes data and insights from police, prosecutors, public defenders, public health workers, and city officials.

The report is short on actual solutions, however, which is probably not a bad thing. For one, too many fingers were in this particular pie to actually come up with a single set of solutions.

In fact, one issue with this report is that there appears to be at least some tension between the agencies contributing to it.

Although the agencies came together to work under one banner for the project — an effort dubbed the Philadelphia Interagency Research and Public Safety Collaborative — the report was divided into sections that in some instances showcased familiar disagreements.

The Police Department, for example, noted that the District Attorney’s Office has increasingly failed to win convictions for illegal gun possession, a crime police say must be addressed to curb gunfire in the city.

But prosecutors said there was “little research supporting the approach.” And they noted that one category of gun possession — carrying without a license — was a felony in Philadelphia but a misdemeanor in the rest of the state. They called that legislative decision “inequitable and obviously racist” and said they believe the Police Department’s focus on arresting people for that crime “is having no effect on the gun violence crisis.”

“We do not believe that arresting people and convicting them for illegal gun possession is a viable strategy to reduce shootings,” the DA’s Office wrote.

Now, whether it’s a viable strategy or not, I do take exception to the claim that the disparity in carrying without a license penalties is “obviously racist.”

After all, that law didn’t spring up out of nowhere. People in Philadelphia wanted that law while people in the rest of the state didn’t. How is it racist to essentially give people what they wanted?

Of course, we live in a day and age where the intention of a law is divined from its outcome. Any law that disproportionately impacts black people is racist, even if the black community actually supported that law in the first place.

As for the report, I seriously want to applaud Philadelphia for taking a breath before they start reacting. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s only going to be a breath and won’t change anything with regard to what they’ll try to do.