Saying he will make the city safer and be “the voice for victims,” former Philadelphia homicide prosecutor Carlos Vega formally announced his candidacy Wednesday to challenge District Attorney Larry Krasner in the 2021 Democratic primary.

In a city where the number of homicides and shootings has skyrocketed, Vega, standing outside the District Attorney’s Office where he once worked, said: “We’re seeing this year alone the tragic loss of our youth in numbers that is hard to comprehend.”

As of Wednesday, this year’s shooting victims included 186 children.

Under Krasner, there’s a “city crumbling,” Vega said, promising that under his leadership the city would be “better, safer.”

Vega noted afterward that there have been 1,254 illegal gun-possession cases in which charges were withdrawn or dismissed during Krasner’s tenure, according to the DA’s data dashboard. He also pointed out that the average annual number of illegal gun-possession cases that were dismissed or withdrawn increased by 85% during Krasner’s first two years in office compared with the four years before he took office.

Vega, 64, served in the District Attorney’s Office for 35 years — 30 as a homicide prosecutor. He was one of 31 staffers fired by Krasner shortly after Krasner took office in January 2018. Last year, Vega filed a lawsuit against Krasner alleging that his firing was based on age discrimination. Krasner has denied that, and the lawsuit is still pending in federal court.

Philadelphia had recorded 473 homicide victims as of Tuesday night, a 39% increase from the year before. And so far this year, there have been 2,149 shooting victims, a 53% increase from the year before and nearly double the number in 2015, according to police statistics.

Vega also said he would prosecute shoplifters for theft and would prosecute people who vandalize stores during protests. “Absolutely, that’s a crime. In fact, it’s a crime to the whole community,” he said.

About 50 supporters attended his news conference, many wearing “Vega for DA” face masks. Three relatives of homicide victims spoke on his behalf.

Krasner, a former criminal defense and civil rights attorney, ran on a reform platform. His campaign manager, Brandon Evans, said by email Wednesday: “The voters in Philadelphia have a choice: They can go back to the time where we locked people up no matter the cost, failed to hold the powerful accountable, and locked up the innocent. Or we can continue moving forward.”

Jane Roh, spokesperson for the DA’s Office, said of the illegal gun-possession cases that were withdrawn or dismissed: 52% were dropped because a witness failed to appear; 24%, for weak evidence; 9%, because of prosecutorial discretion; another 9%, because of “stakeholder error,” and 6%, because federal authorities took them on.

“The rates are steady year to year,” she said by email. “We continue to review weak evidence issues” and “are also developing strategies with our partners in the criminal legal system, including courts and police, to increase cooperation with witnesses.”

Krystal Vargas, whose 15-year-old sister, Petra Yamira Vargas, was gunned down in 1994, said at Vega’s news conference that in 2019, the DA’s Office told her that one of the two defendants convicted in her sister’s slaying was released because he was a juvenile at the time of the shooting.

One of the conditions of his release was that he would name the two other men involved in the shooting, she said. Although he did, Vargas said, “the District Attorney’s Office refused to investigate and do their job of bringing my sister true justice.”

Evans said that Krasner supports victims, but declined to speak about individual cases.