Several Philadelphia city councilmembers visited Chester on Tuesday to learn about how government and law enforcement officials there have worked hand-in-hand to reduce gun violence in 2021.
But the scripted event seemed to go off course, highlighting the dysfunction and dissension among the Philadelphia leaders expected to address the epidemic that is claiming a record number of lives this year.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke admitted he did not invite Mayor Jim Kenney, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, or District Attorney Larry Krasner to take part in the event. City Council, he said, was an independent body and “doesn’t wait around for other people to act.”
And by the end of the day, the city’s mayor and district attorney were trading insults with each other.
What began as an event aiming to inspire a path forward during a record-breaking stretch of violence instead served to expose the deep fissures among city leaders tasked with addressing it. And left in its wake were questions about how the type of strategy touted by officials in Chester — which relies on collaboration among different agencies — could succeed in the fractious environment on display in Philadelphia.
The discord first surfaced after a listening session between the councilmembers and Chester officials including the mayor, police commissioner, and the Delaware County district attorney. Each said they believed that government and law enforcement must work together and with urgency to identify and address young men at risk of being involved in gun violence, citing those relationships as a key ingredient in Chester’s near-50% reduction in shootings this year.
Philadelphia’s district attorney, for his part, later expressed frustration at being excluded. And when asked about the level of collaboration in Philadelphia, he unloaded on Kenney, saying the mayor hasn’t talked to him in two years, even though “I would be delighted to communicate with him any time, anywhere, because that is how a functioning city works.”
Kenney’s office responded by issuing a statement saying: “The Mayor and his Administration has and will continue to meet regularly with the DA and his staff” — an assertion Krasner said was “flatly and completely untrue.”
Kenney’s spokesperson, Deana Gamble, added a blistering assessment of Krasner’s office, saying: “The Mayor is disappointed, but not surprised, that DA Krasner continues his attempts to pass blame for his office’s inability to prosecute crimes onto his law enforcement partners instead of taking responsibility and accountability for the important role he must play in keeping Philadelphians safe.”
Krasner vigorously defended his office’s record and said Kenney’s position was not supported by facts. He added: “I look forward to working with the mayor. All he’s got to do is call me, and he has my number.”
The broadsides did not stop there.
During Tuesday’s event, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said Krasner could help replicate the type of strategy his office has helped spearhead in Chester. But Stollsteimer said he has “never heard from anybody in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office” during his 20 months in office.
“I’ve never received a return phone call from [Krasner] on any issue I’ve tried to call him about,” Stollsteimer said.
A clearly agitated Krasner replied that he didn’t know of any attempt by Stollsteimer to reach him. And he suggested that Stollsteimer had misrepresented his interactions with Krasner to bolster his political aspirations, which Krasner said included a desire to become state attorney general.
Stollsteimer responded by saying that Krasner has treated him and other prosecutors across the state with “the same disrespect he does with everyone else in law enforcement.”
“He can say whatever he wants about integrity, but we all try to work together for the common good, and Larry doesn’t participate,” Stollsteimer said.
Beyond the back-and-forth with his political counterparts, Krasner also cast doubt on his support for the stated topic of the day: Philadelphia’s efforts to sustain a collaborative gun-violence strategy similar to the one in Chester.
The city’s top prosecutor said Philadelphia’s version appears too centered on law enforcement at the expense of supportive services, such as jobs programs. And he blamed that misalignment on what he views as the conservative political views of a law firm that employs Bryan Lentz, a former prosecutor and key adviser to the approach, which is known as Group Violence Intervention.
“I really think people in Philly should do more policy and less politics,” Krasner said.
Lentz, for his part, said Group Violence Intervention has four caseworkers and a robust budget dedicated to supporting at-risk youth with resources and jobs.
As for his motivations, Lentz said: “No one should have any concern about my commitment to the strategy and its success. I will continue to work with anybody, including Larry, that’s interested in moving the ball forward in reducing gun violence.”