Philly’s U.S. attorney and other federal law enforcement leaders unveil new plan to combat the city’s gun violence
“This is a groundbreaking initiative here in Philadelphia,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said, “but we are applying techniques that are proven to work.”
More than a dozen top federal law enforcement officials and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw stood together on Independence Mall on Thursday to express outrage at the skyrocketing level of violence in the city and announce a new federal initiative aimed at combating the scourge.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams pledged more federal prosecutions of local gun-violence cases and said the FBI is adding agents to investigate violent crimes and gangs and will assign more intelligence analysts to the initiative. And the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will provide additional support to the Philadelphia Police Department’s forensic laboratory and has launched a crime-gun enforcement team to quickly follow up on tracking leads, she said.
“This is a groundbreaking initiative here in Philadelphia,” Williams said, “but we are applying techniques that are proven to work, which is putting the most violent criminals behind bars for a very long time.”
Williams said no additional money will be needed for the new federal undertaking, but a shifting of resources instead.
She spoke as she stood next to Outlaw at the People’s Plaza at Fifth and Market Streets. More than a dozen federal law enforcement officials or police commanders stood behind them.
The 499 people who were killed in the city last year, most from gun violence, marked a 40% increase over the prior year. In 2021, there have already been 132 homicides in Philadelphia, up from 98 homicides at the same point last year. Shootings are also surging, with 534 so far this year.
“Night after night after night shots are fired. And people are killed or seriously injured,” Williams said, adding: “At this rate, we are on pace to surpass 600 homicides this year in Philadelphia. That is shocking and devastating, and nearly unheard of.”
Outlaw echoed Williams’ concerns and praised the new effort.
“With folks seeing that there are serious consequences for gun crimes or any other serious violent crimes, knowing that there’s a serious consequence at the end of a violent crime will do, I think, quite a bit to deter the violence that we’ve been seeing,” said the police commissioner. “It’s evidence-based, it’s tried and true. This is nothing new, and sometimes you have to go back to knowing what works.”
John McNesby, president of the police officers’ union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said after the news conference that the police union welcomes the new federal initiative.
“Anything to curb the violence that’s going on out here,” he said. There’s currently “no fear of repercussion on the street” for people who commit gun crimes.
Absent at the news conference was Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, whom Williams said was informed of the federal initiative. Asked whether he was invited to the news conference, Williams didn’t directly answer, saying that those invited were from federal agencies. Williams’ predecessor in the job, William McSwain, routinely criticized and clashed publicly with Krasner, whose progressive policies he blamed in part for the rise in violence.
Krasner’s spokesperson, Jane Roh, said in an email Thursday afternoon: “We welcome and support an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to the plague of gun violence, and join the U.S. Department of Justice in rejecting finger-pointing and accountability-ducking as a public agency.”
In a letter addressed to the citizens of Philadelphia and its nearby counties in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Williams and 16 other federal law enforcement officials from the region — including Michael Driscoll, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Philadelphia; Matthew Varisco of the ATF; and Jon Wilson of the Drug Enforcement Administration — said they were “outraged” by the violence and pledged to be “standing shoulder to shoulder with Philadelphia police” to do all they can to reverse the trend.
Federal authorities will also obtain search warrants, review cellphone records and ballistics evidence, and mobilize their network of sources and share information to help the Police Department, the letter said.
“The current violence in Philadelphia,” it says, “affects all of us.”