Spike in homicides to over 300 is a wakeup call for police and Mayor | Editorial
The homicide numbers fluctuate but the steady drumbeat of gunshots, hitting two children on Halloween or four people just before Thanksgiving, doesn't. It traps residents in fear, turning their homes into prisons.
Stating what has been unbearably obvious for years, Philadelphia Mayor Kenney declared gun violence a public health crisis in September and ordered his staff to come up with a new battle plan by Jan. 5.
At the time, there were already more than 230 homicides. Since then, about 70 more people have been killed. And, on Monday, police found four bodies in a West Philadelphia basement, kicking the number of homicides over 300 for the second time in two years.
The numbers fluctuate but the steady rain of gunshots, hitting two children on Halloween or four people just before Thanksgiving, doesn't. It traps residents in fear, turning their homes into prisons.
With this escalation of the violence, it's clear Police Commissioner Richard Ross can't wait until the report comes out in January. The bodies are going to keep piling up. Ross should do more of what he knows works and dial back on what doesn't, such as stop and frisk, which hasn't reduced violent crime. At the same time, he should broadcast his overarching vision to the city to get more help.
The department employs a variety of reactive tactics, such as deploying police to high-crime areas or driving shooting victims to the nearest hospital instead of waiting for an ambulance.
One thoughtful strategy, however, reduced crime. Beginning in 2013, the city, District Attorney's Office, and other agencies focused on gangs in South Philadelphia. When one member of a gang got into trouble, the entire gang paid for it with higher bails and sentences as well as enhanced enforcement of child support orders and fines for breaking the rules in public housing. The working group partnered with Temple University to study the program's effectiveness and learned that it reduced shootings by 35 percent. That's effective — so why not apply the program across the city?
None of these are bad approaches. The problem is there aren't enough of them to keep up with the bloodshed. Violence has many causes, including poverty, the rampant drug trade, the opioid crisis, and the proclivity of some to solve problems with a gun instead of talking it out. To reduce violence, the city's going to have to keep experimenting both with long-term solutions, such as reducing poverty — especially by improving educational opportunities and jobs — as well as short-term solutions, such as smartly deploying police. It also should increase university and hospital partnerships and take notes from other cities. Chicago, for example, teamed up with the University of Chicago to analyze where guns used in crimes are coming from. A similar approach could help Philadelphia get a handle on gun trafficking in a city awash in guns.
Kenney wants to focus on prevention and enforcement, treating gun violence like a public health issue. It's about time, because policing alone — while critical — won't be enough to stop the slaughter.
Of the upcoming report, he said, "I don't want something that sits on the shelf, something that is nice to announce and is forgotten."
We shouldn't be waiting for a report. The relentless carnage won't allow it. Action is required now.