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As crime plagues Philly, Mayor Kenney must prioritize law and order for new police commissioner | Opinion

The next police commissioner has an important role in reshaping Philadelphia's criminal justice landscape, which has shifted radically under District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Outside of the roundhouse, Philadelphia's police headquarters. It is expected that Mayor Jim Kenney will name a new police commissioner by the end of 2019.
Outside of the roundhouse, Philadelphia's police headquarters. It is expected that Mayor Jim Kenney will name a new police commissioner by the end of 2019.Read more / File Photograph

Mayor Jim Kenney will soon choose a Philadelphia police commissioner. For the sake of our city, he should select a proven professional — someone in the mold of former Commissioner Charles Ramsey — who will emphasize vigorous enforcement of our laws and not bend to the worst excesses of District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Since the DA took office, our city has endured an intolerable wave of shootings and homicides. In 2019 alone, well over 100 children have been shot. Philadelphia is now one of the country’s most dangerous cities. Tragically, with his soft-on-crime approach, Krasner has abandoned the minority community, which bears the brunt of this crime wave.

It is not just the worst types of violent crime that are plaguing the city. Quality-of-life crimes have also proliferated — such as open-air drug use, public urination, loitering, prostitution, and retail theft — because Krasner will not prosecute them.

The way out of this mess is to demand accountability from criminals. We need a commissioner whose overriding focus is on enforcing the law, who puts public safety over politics, and who rejects the myths that feed a false narrative about the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD).

The most insidious myth is that the PPD itself intentionally violates the law rather than enforcing it. Any large, urban police force will have instances of misconduct, which of course should be addressed. But the overwhelming majority of Philadelphia police officers serve honorably and courageously. They deserve praise and support, not casual slander.

Another vicious myth is that the PPD is racist. This is an odd accusation, as nearly half of Philadelphia police officers are minorities (and most crime victims are minorities, as well). The fact is that the police go to where crimes occur — most often in response to 911 calls — and make arrests based on criminal behavior, not skin color. Any contrary suggestion is willfully ignorant.

Another favorite myth in some circles is that our drug laws are an ineffective artifact of the past. Drug dealing is inherently violent — and it is fueling Philadelphia’s homicide crisis. What is ineffective is the mindset that the government should throw in the towel on narcotics enforcement. That mindset encourages drug dealers to spread poison and violence on our streets.

Finally, we need a commissioner who rejects the myth that poverty is an excuse for violent crime, and even murder. Anyone who violently assaults another human being deserves serious punishment. It is a slap in the face to every law-abiding, low-income resident to suggest that the poor will shoot, maim, and kill because they have no other option. Some have even taken this argument to its logical absurdity and claim that violent crime is, in fact, a disease. It is not.

The accumulation of these lies — that the police intentionally violate the law rather than enforce it, that they target skin color as opposed to crime, that the war on drugs is a mistaken relic of the past, that poverty excuses murder, and that violent crime is a disease and not a choice — sends a clear message to violent criminals: it’s not your fault. In fact, you’re a victim. So just keep doing what you’re doing. And don’t worry, we’ll change the system to accommodate you. We’re sorry for harassing you by trying to interfere with your lawbreaking.

The new police commissioner should reject this nonsense — all of it. Otherwise, the results will be predictable: more murders, more shootings, more drug corners, more crime, more misery. And for law-abiding citizens: less opportunity, less freedom, less hope.

Now is a time for choosing. Whose side is Mayor Kenney on? Law-abiding residents, or criminals? We’ll soon find out.

William McSwain is the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, covering Philadelphia and its eight surrounding counties.