Ask almost any Philadelphia police officer why violence is out of control, and at least one of these reasons will be cited:
Easy access to illegal guns; teenage thugs with little appreciation for life; and dozens of street-battling cliques terrorizing entire neighborhoods.
But as crime has gone up, federal funding for Philadelphia's police and social-service programs has gone down.
Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced in Washington, D.C., that his agency will provide more money and more prosecutors in a nationwide effort to crack down on violence.
"The biggest concern for law enforcement is loosely organized local gangs or street crews," Gonzales told reporters in a prepared speech.
"There are deeply troubling indications that young offenders often lack respect for human life," he added. "We also heard about the ineffectiveness of some states' juvenile-justice laws at deterring youth crime."
A spokesperson later said Gonzales had sent officials to 18 cities last winter to learn first-hand about crime trends from police. Philadelphia was not visited.
The attorney general pledged to hire at least 70 more prosecutors nationwide, hold more fugitive sweeps, and work closely with the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to combat illegal guns.
The Department of Justice will also give $125 million in grants at the state and local levels, especially for task forces consisting of cops and federal agents. An additional $18 million in grants will be distributed to the 94 U.S. attorney's offices across the country. It was unclear yesterday how much would come to Philadelphia.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. Attorney's Eastern District office in Philadelphia received $800,000 to fight gun and gang violence, an official there said.
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has pointed out repeatedly that his department has lost about $3 million in federal funding since 2002. In the past decade, the city has lost an additional $1 million in federal funding for violence prevention.
"It is ironic, however," said Deputy District Attorney George Mosee, "that many of Philadelphia's prevention programs have been cut in recent years, because the federal government, which Mr. Gonzales represents, has drastically decreased funding.
"Mr. Gonzales' words may ring true, but they will have no impact without funding." *