Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw on Thursday told City Council members that the department is working hard to solve homicides but must do better, and must improve communication with victims’ families, who sometimes have trouble reaching homicide detectives to learn the status of investigations.
“As a mother of two sons, 21 and 18, I don’t know what I would do” if she couldn’t reach a detective, said Outlaw, 44, as she appeared with other city and law enforcement officials before a special committee on gun violence prevention. “I would be inconsolable.”
Outlaw, who took over the department on Feb. 10, heard parents and other relatives speak of seeing their loved ones shot near their homes by gunmen who lived within walking distance and yet often remained on the streets, seemingly unafraid of being caught.
“What I want to ask for is for the Philadelphia Police Department, and the law enforcement of this city, to stop giving us excuses about solving our loved ones’ murders,” said Stanley Crawford, 67, whose son William was killed in Rhawnhurst 17 months ago by a gunman who remains on the loose.
“Listen, if I’m in the murdering business, Philadelphia is a good town to be in," he said. “If you’re telling us you can’t solve the murders, then you’re in the wrong business.”
Felicia Pendleton, who founded Mothers United by Angels after her son was killed four years ago, said the 15-year-old boy who killed him was known on the street as a “crash dummy" — a teen used by older accomplices to commit shootings. Pendleton said police told her he had killed three people before her son.
“This shouldn’t just be another conversation. I’m over conversations. Work has to be done,” she said. “We matter, the co-victims matter.… We have to stand behind one another.”
The hearing, convened by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, comes as gun violence surges. As of Wednesday, there were 51 homicides this year — most by guns — compared with 42 at this time last year.
Chief Inspector Frank Vanore, who oversees the Homicide Unit, apologized to those who complained about not being able get in contact with detectives. He said the homicide clearance rate so far this year is 61%, an improvement from 52% last year and 42% in 2018.
Outlaw said she is mindful that that is little comfort to those whose loved ones’ slayings remain unsolved. “Clearance rates don’t really matter when you don’t have that closure," she told reporters after the hearing. "So, I’m cautious about being a braggart on our improvements, but at the same time, I would like to point out and acknowledge the good work that is being done.”
Outlaw said she will embrace procedural justice, working with local, state and federal partners, using data and technology, training and accountability, and giving all stakeholders clear communication and directions.
“We will be a learning organization," she said during the hearing. “And I also believe in working with others to break down the silence that too often impedes progress on community engagement and inclusion.”
Earlier in the hearing, Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. said, “No election can prepare you for the sound of a mother who has prematurely lost a child to gun violence.”
He welcomed Outlaw, the city’s first African American woman police commissioner, saying, “You are another piece of the puzzle that we look forward to working with” in stopping gun violence."
Councilman Allan Domb told the new commissioner that she has friends in City Hall.
“Crime is the number one issue in the city of Philadelphia,” he said. “The message is brief. What tools you need, you need to hire more police, you need more technology — I heard you speak about technology — you need more cameras, you need drone systems. Whatever you need, you need to come to us.”