Sunday marks the beginning of National Police Week, the annual celebration of the brave officers on the front lines of local law enforcement. The Philadelphia police, in particular, deserve our support and gratitude for nobly serving as the protectors of our great city.
Yet over the last year, the Philadelphia police have been laboring under extremely difficult conditions. Since the beginning of 2018, homicides and shootings in Philadelphia have skyrocketed: There were 351 homicides in 2018 (the most in more than a decade) and 1,351 shooting victims (the most since 2011). The numbers so far in 2019 are even worse: Both homicides and shootings in the first quarter of 2019 are up significantly as compared with 2018. This is against the backdrop of a sharp decline in the overall homicide rate in large cities nationwide over the same time period.
What makes Philadelphia different? Why are the worst kinds of violent crime exploding in our city over the last 16 months, unlike most other large cities in America? It is undeniable that no matter how hard the police work, the safety of the community depends upon the support that prosecutors provide to law enforcement. Philadelphia’s public safety crisis can – to a large extent – be tied to the policies instituted by District Attorney Larry Krasner, who took office in January 2018 and calls himself a “public defender with power.”
What has Krasner done since entering office? Among other things, he has decimated the District Attorney’s Office by firing scores of experienced prosecutors (replacing many of them with defense-oriented ideologues, like himself). He has pursued his stated priority of “decarceration” by emptying the local jails. He has reduced the number of criminal cases filed (resulting in the closure of several criminal courtrooms). He has offered lenient plea deals to all manner of defendants (causing the number of criminal trials to plummet as defendants eagerly accept the deals). He has consistently undercharged violent crime cases. And he has routinely violated state law by not communicating with victims of violent crime.
All of this is accompanied by a steady diet of anti-law enforcement rhetoric that serves to undermine and alienate the police force.
Sadly, these policies have been particularly damaging to minority communities. For example, in 2018, a staggering 92 percent of the city’s homicide victims were African American or Hispanic. Everyone in the city deserves to live in a safe neighborhood.
The bottom line is that potential criminals on the streets of our city are not stupid. They pay attention to what is happening at the District Attorney’s Office – and they become emboldened. They think they can literally get away with murder. This mind-set makes the already difficult job of the Philadelphia police even more difficult, if not nearly impossible. Police Week brings these issues to the forefront.
Philadelphians are clearly unnerved by this state of affairs. According to recent polls by both The Inquirer and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the issue that city residents care about the most – by far – is crime. They want the police to aggressively investigate, punish, and deter crime to keep our community safe.
But the police can’t do it alone. They deserve law enforcement partners who care as much about public safety as they do.
In the near term, one way that this public safety crisis can be addressed is through the continued dedication of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to fighting violent crime, working with our federal law enforcement partners and the Philadelphia police. The stakes could not be higher. On this first day of Police Week, the brave officers throughout the city should know that they have an ally – and violent defendants have an enemy – in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.