Philadelphia is in the midst of a gun-violence crisis, but a relatively small portion of the money dedicated to antiviolence programs in the city’s latest budget will go toward efforts that could immediately decrease shootings, according to the city’s elected fiscal watchdog.
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart released a report Thursday analyzing the money that Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council designated as antiviolence funding and categorizing the programs based on how quickly they’re likely to have an impact. Her office concluded that just $33 million, or 21% of the $155 million, would go toward intervention efforts that are most likely to have short-term results within one to three years.
“This increase in funding is a very good step, so I don’t want to overlook that,” Rhynhart said. “But as we move forward, we need to fund intervention programs at a higher level.”
The Kenney administration and Council President Darrell L. Clarke separately pushed back on the analysis, disagreeing with Rhynhart’s findings and arguing that the funding was set after lengthy negotiations and conversations with experts and community leaders.
The new spending comes amid a surge in gun violence. As of Aug. 15, 1,448 people have been shot in Philadelphia and 337 have been killed. Those numbers represent a 21% increase in shootings and a 26% increase in homicides compared with the same date last year.
Here are five key takeaways from the report:
Some programs could have a more immediate impact on violence reduction
Rhynhart’s analysis broke down the city’s antiviolence spending into three categories used by experts, such as leaders of the National Institute on Criminal Justice Reform: intervention, prevention, and transformation.
Intervention focuses on gun violence happening now and targets programs for individuals most likely to shoot or be shot, so it can yield the fastest results. Cities such as Oakland, Calif., have had success focusing on intervention programs.
Prevention programs, such as youth mentoring, after-school programs, and mental health services, could take five to 10 years to yield results, according to Rhynhart’s report. And transformation programs, such as economic development and neighborhood revitalization, can take 15 to 20 years by addressing broader issues such as poverty.
Deana Gamble, a spokesperson for Kenney, said the existing intervention programs are “highly impactful and cost-effective initiatives.”
“Framing it in a way that only 21% of funding for short-term strategies isn’t sufficient doesn’t actually provide adequate context to the impact of these initiatives at the current funding levels can have on the immediate crisis,” Gamble said.
Most funding goes to long-term programs
About 70% of the city’s funding is going toward longer-term prevention and transformation efforts, the controller’s analysis found.
And of the $68 million in new violence-prevention spending in the current fiscal year, Rhynhart classified 34% as short-term intervention.
Gamble said the initiatives Rhynhart categorized as longer-term — such as out-of-school time programs for students — serve larger populations than focused intervention programs.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who was among the lawmakers leading the push for more antiviolence funding and whose West Philadelphia district has been heavily impacted by shootings, said the budget deal was an important victory for communities traumatized by gun violence. But Rhynhart’s report increased transparency, she said, and highlighted the need to target the money to specific programs that have been proven to work in other cities.
“I agree with the controller’s assessment,” Gauthier said, “and I would recommend that we take a look at how we’re planning to send these funds so that we can ensure that we have enough devoted to short-term interventions.”
Rhynhart thinks the city should spend more on intervention programs
Rhynhart said funding long-term efforts is still important — but the city should also dedicate more resources toward intervention programs because they are evidence-based and have worked in other cities.
“It doesn’t mean that the prevention and transformation programs aren’t great programs,” Rhynhart said. “When you’re looking at antiviolence, you have to focus on those most likely to shoot or be shot.”
This isn’t the first time Rhynhart has called for the city to spend more money on programs such group violence intervention, which other cities fund at higher levels.
The Kenney administration added $1.3 million this year for group violence intervention and its community crisis intervention program, for a total of $6.6 million in the current fiscal year.
Clarke criticized Rhynhart’s focus on group violence intervention, which typically relies on police to identify people most likely to shoot or be shot. He said Council is more concerned with giving out $22 million in new community grants.
“It’s easy to quote national experts and find fault and criticize the city’s strategies, but that helps no one,” Clarke said. “If the controller’s office believes more law enforcement is needed to reduce gun violence, it should say so, and audit law enforcement’s response.”
It’s unclear how much a new grant program will help antiviolence efforts
Council and the mayor’s office tout a new antiviolence grant program for community groups as a key part of the new funding.
The grant money, totaling $22 million, could start going out later this month.
The controller’s analysis categorized those grants as intervention funding, with the caveat that it’s still unclear exactly what programs they will cover.
Rhynhart said she’s hopeful based on the grant application documents that funding will go to groups focusing on individuals who are most likely to shoot or be shot — which would classify as short-term intervention.
Rhynhart, who has frequently clashed with Kenney and is seen as a likely mayoral candidate in 2023, applauded Council members for pushing the administration to provide new funding for those grants and other programs.
“Because of Council’s actions to push for more funding on gun violence, there is a bigger percentage of money going toward intervention,” she said.
Not all of the $155 million is going to gun-violence reduction efforts
Of the $155 million in antiviolence spending, only about $68 million is new spending.
The rest is existing spending that was categorized as antiviolence money, and that includes restoring pandemic cuts to parks and recreation and libraries and funding the Dell Music Center.
The controller’s report said those investments are worthwhile but don’t necessarily qualify as antiviolence efforts.
The antiviolence spending also includes $13.3 million for police reforms, which Rhynhart didn’t place into one of her three categories. That money includes funding for a co-responder program that will pair behavioral health specialists with police to respond to 911 calls about mental health crises. “These initiatives, while important, are not aimed at combating the city’s gun violence crisis,” the controller’s report said.