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Philly mayoral candidate Jeff Brown criticizes DA Krasner and shifts tone on police funding

The rhetoric represented a shift in tone for Brown, who has before positioned himself as generally progressive on criminal justice.

Grocer Jeff Brown speaks to his supporters as he announces his run for mayor in November.
Grocer Jeff Brown speaks to his supporters as he announces his run for mayor in November.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

One week ago, Philadelphia mayoral candidate Jeff Brown told voters in West Philadelphia that he’d oppose increasing the nearly $800 million Police Department budget, saying: “We have enough money in the police budget.”

Then on Tuesday night, when Brown spoke to a group of Northeast Philadelphia voters, he was asked if “more police and more money for police” is a priority.

“It’s the No. 1 priority right now,” he said.

His comments on police funding were among a handful of decidedly tough-on-crime remarks the grocer made while speaking to members of the Greater Bustleton Civic League during the group’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

He also slammed District Attorney Larry Krasner — who he said is “against the police officers” — and said he “would look to repeal” the city’s so-called driving equality law, a reform-oriented policy aimed at cutting down on racial disparities in police stops.

In a statement Thursday, Brown’s campaign spokesperson clarified that he believes the department is “adequately funded” and walked back his comments on the driving equality law, saying Brown has concerns about elements of it but did not intend to say he would push to repeal the entire law.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia mayor’s race sees a first public spar over race, privilege, and wages

Still, the rhetoric represented a shift in tone for Brown, who has generally positioned himself as bullish on criminal-justice reform. The longtime ShopRite proprietor has touted his work to hire hundreds of formerly incarcerated people to work in his stores, and last year spoke at a District Attorney’s Office event about progressive approaches to law enforcement.

Now, he’s among the first mayoral candidates to clearly break with Krasner. Ex-Councilmember Allan Domb has said he’s mismanaged the office, but since the start of campaigning, most of the other contenders have generally either aligned with Krasner on policy or have avoided singling him out publicly.

Krasner won reelection by a landslide in 2021, and will not be on the ballot again until 2025, meaning the next mayor will likely need to work alongside him for at least two years.

Jeff Brown alluded to Krasner’s popularity Tuesday, telling the group his own polling showed a majority of likely voters would cast their vote for Krasner again.

When an attendee chimed in, saying: “They don’t know who they’re voting for,” Brown responded in agreement: “I don’t think they really know.”

Brown criticized what he said is the District Attorney’s Office’s policy on retail theft cases, saying Krasner “stopped prosecuting shoplifters” when the value of goods stolen is below $500.

Jane Roh, a spokesperson for Krasner’s office, said that mischaracterizes the office’s policy. She said retail theft cases are generally designated as summary offenses by officers, and that when cases are referred to the DA’s office as misdemeanors, prosecutors almost always open criminal cases.

Brown also chided the office’s handling of illegal gun possession cases, which have been the source of consternation between Krasner and police leadership, and was one of the chief complaints of the state House Republicans who impeached Krasner last year. The impeachment proceedings are indefinitely suspended.

During Krasner’s tenure, the conviction rate in gun possession cases dropped from 63% in 2017 to 49% two years later. Krasner’s office has defended its record on illegal gun cases and said many factors contributed to the decline in convictions. He has also said law enforcement should prioritize shootings and homicides.

Brown said Krasner believes prosecuting illegal gun cases is “a hostility towards impoverished people.” He added: “I think that’s bulls—.”

Roh said Krasner appreciates that Brown’s stores were the largest local employer to participate in the District Attorney’s Office’s diversion program for people arrested for nonviolent offenses during the civil unrest in 2020.

“DA Krasner and supporters of restorative justice across the city of Philadelphia who are familiar with Jeff Brown’s deeds know him to have stated that Black Lives Matter — indeed, Black lives must matter to elected officials and leaders pledging to make this city’s future brighter,” she said.

» READ MORE: Philly mayoral candidates debated crime, policing, and stop-and-frisk. Here are 4 big takeaways.

In addition to criticizing the DA, Brown said Tuesday that the city’s driving equality law — which aims to reduce racial disparities in police stops — is “a really bad bill.” The legislation, which took effect nearly a year ago, prohibits officers from stopping motorists solely for committing low-level offenses like driving with a broken taillight or an expired inspection sticker.

Brown said it hinders violent-crime prevention, saying, “If you were going to do a drive-by shooting, what you would take is an unregistered car with tinted windows.” Having a registration that expired within 60 days is among the infractions included in the law, but the legislation does not include language on window tint.

At-large Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who authored the bill, staunchly defended it Thursday, saying he developed the legislation in partnership with police brass. Thomas, who is Black and has talked openly of being stopped by police, said he wrote the bill “as a response to my lived experience.”

“There’s a lot of misconceptions around the bill,” he said. “I would challenge anybody that’s running for mayor to understand the legislation that’s on the books before communicating concerns not necessarily reflective of what is in it.”