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Mayor Kenney unveils initiatives to address gun violence

The 32-page report includes a sprawling set of initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence, from new policing capabilities, to public health programs, and efforts to address school truancy, poverty, and blight.

Mayor Jim Kenney at his news conference presenting a violence-reduction plan at City Hall, Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019.
Mayor Jim Kenney at his news conference presenting a violence-reduction plan at City Hall, Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019.Read moreMargo Reed / Staff Photographer

Mayor Jim Kenney on Thursday unveiled a sprawling set of initiatives aimed at reducing the city’s level of gun violence, hoping that a blend of policing tactics, public health programs, and efforts to address issues, including school truancy, poverty, and blight, will help stem the tide of what Kenney has declared an ongoing crisis.

The mayor’s 32-page antiviolence report, titled “The Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities,” was developed by Kenney’s cabinet over the last months of 2018, a year when the city recorded 351 homicides, the highest total in more than a decade. More than 1,400 people were shot in the city in 2018 — an average of nearly four per day.

Kenney introduced the report at a City Hall news conference alongside a host of city officials, including the police commissioner, the school superintendent, and several City Council members. He said his administration would dedicate more than $4 million over the next six months to address issues cited in the report, and said he would seek additional funding as part of his budget proposal due in March.

“We simply cannot wait any longer,” Kenney said.

The report touches on a broad swath of potential programs, such as expanding access to job training, increasing the use of so-called crisis intervention teams in neighborhoods plagued by violence, and establishing community hubs with resources for people released from incarceration or on supervision.

Many of the proposals lacked details on cost and implementation.

The report did say the city should develop an “injury prevention unit” within the Department of Public Health focused on gun violence; begin blight removal in violence-prone neighborhoods by cleaning vacant lots, demolishing dangerous buildings, and cleaning and sealing vacant properties; and launch public-awareness campaigns in affected neighborhoods.

The Police Department said it would continue developing its intelligence-led tactics to inform the deployment of officers in violent locations, and Commissioner Richard Ross said data would be more regularly and widely shared among patrol officers and supervisors.

Vanessa Garrett Harley, deputy managing director for criminal justice and public safety, said about $2 million of the initial funding would go toward job training. The Mayor’s Office said that money would come from Philadelphia Works, a nonprofit that would work with the city to “select quality training and workforce development programs" for those most likely to be impacted by violence.

The city would also contribute funding toward initiatives including the crisis intervention program, police technology upgrades, and the youth violence-prevention program, the Mayor’s Office said.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said he was pleased that the administration was focusing on what he called a “generational” issue.

“We will never be the city we think we are until we create a safer community for everybody,” Clarke said.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said that although some of the initiatives were not new or perfect, “for the first time in a long time, we have a game plan.”

Kenney first issued a call for the report in September, when he deemed the city’s level of gun violence a public health crisis.

While the city’s overall violent crime tally — which counts homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults — has declined for three consecutive years, the annual homicide total has been on the upswing since 2014, when the city recorded 248 killings, according to police statistics.

At least 1,200 people have been shot in the city each year since 2015, the statistics show.

Law enforcement officials said that the number of drug-related killings nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018 .

The report said that shootings and homicides tend to be clustered in the poorest neighborhoods, and that about 75 percent of shooting victims and known offenders are black men, most between the ages of 16 and 34. As a result, many initiatives included in the report are designed to target that population.

Theron Pride, senior director of violence prevention strategies and programs, said that “the opposite of gun violence is opportunity,” and that the administration believed it would be a “long process” to implement the programs and drive violence down.

Some parts of the report appeared to connect to ongoing efforts by the Police Department, and to initiatives funded through a MacArthur Foundation grant to reduce the city’s jail population. Kenney said the report was designed to outline a five-year effort, and many of the proposals have both short- and long-term ideas for how best to tackle the issue.

The briefing room was packed Thursday with city officials, employees, and community activists. District Attorney Larry Krasner did not attend; spokesperson Ben Waxman said that Krasner had a scheduling conflict and that the office was excited to work with the city as it seeks to decrease violence.

Kenney spokesperson Mike Dunn said that the plan was essentially a road map, and that it was developed alongside ongoing programs overseen by the Office of Violence Prevention. Last month, that office said in a report that the city in fiscal year 2017 invested $13.3 million in community-based prevention programs, and that oversight of those funds needed to be better managed.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said that the city was in “a state of emergency” due to gun violence — and that while he appreciated the mayor’s efforts, “now we’ve got to go to work.”