In the wake of a violent weekend in Philadelphia and an ongoing debate about the city’s gun violence epidemic, District Attorney Larry Krasner said Tuesday that prosecutors in 2018 approved a higher percentage of gun cases referred to them by police than in the two years before he was sworn in.
In an interview at his Center City office, Krasner said that even as his administration has successfully reduced the number of cases prosecuted, more than 98 percent of gun cases were approved for prosecution last year, up from about 97 percent in 2016, when Seth Williams held the office.
“It is clear that we are more vigorous — not less vigorous, more vigorous — than the prior administration about bringing gun cases,” Krasner said.
His remarks served as something of a rebuttal to a suggestion floated by Police Commissioner Richard Ross on Monday that city cops have been arresting more people with illegal firearms due to a perception among offenders that they will face “no consequences” for violating the law.
Still, just as Ross avoided directly casting blame on Krasner — who has sought to reduce the justice system’s reliance on incarceration — Krasner on Tuesday refrained from criticizing the city’s top cop. Krasner said he agreed with other aspects of Ross’ remarks, including the belief that problems contributing to ongoing gun violence such as poverty, joblessness, or trauma are “fundamentally structural.”
“He does see this the same way I do,” Krasner said, “which is that these are structural issues.”
The comments this week from the city’s top two law enforcement officials came after a Father’s Day weekend in which 28 people were shot, five fatally, in 19 incidents spread across the city on Saturday and Sunday.
State legislators have since called on Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf to declare a state of emergency over the city’s level of gun violence.
Krasner on Tuesday said that the ongoing bloodshed was “profoundly disturbing.”
His office said a full set of data about gun-related prosecutions — such as the number of cases prosecuted, declined, and outcomes of those cases over a period of several years — would take more time to gather.
Krasner said that when his office earlier this year analyzed gun cases, it determined that even as prosecutors declined a higher proportion of cases referred by police in 2018 — about 7 percent, he said — they pursued a higher share of the cases in which a violation of the Uniform Firearms Act was considered the most serious, or “lead,” charge.
Although that group represents only a portion of defendants charged with gun violations each year, Krasner said: “We were very clear that we were promising to focus heavily on the most serious cases, and within the frame of gun cases we have been more vigorous, and significantly more vigorous, than the prior administration was a couple years ago.”
Ross on Monday highlighted what he said was an uptick in the number of arrests for violations of the Uniform Firearms Act in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2015. He questioned whether the increase was because “some of these guys think they’ve figured something out relative to consequences or lack thereof.”
Ross did not offer specifics on whether the Police Department had found definitive patterns of cases being dropped or ending with a figurative slap on the wrist. He said the department was studying gun-related cases and their progression through the criminal justice system to learn more about potential trends.
Krasner said his office also would continue studying its handling of gun-related cases, adding: “Any time the commissioner has a question that we can help to answer, we’re going to try to help to answer it.”
Police have not announced any arrests in the Father’s Day shooting that killed one person and injured five others. Through Monday, according to police statistics, 556 people had been shot in Philadelphia, about a 3 percent decline over the same point last year.
The city has recorded 152 homicides this year, the statistics say, a 12 percent increase over the same point in 2018.