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Philly has a $208M antiviolence budget. Just a fraction addresses shootings in the short term, the controller says.

A report written by the city's fiscal watchdog comes as the city is still seeing homicides and shootings continue at an unprecedented pace.

Philadelphia Police process the scene of a shooting on Aug. 21, when a 26-year-old woman was killed in a drive-by shooting. City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said in a report released Tuesday that the Kenney administration has not spent enough city funding to combat violence in the short term.
Philadelphia Police process the scene of a shooting on Aug. 21, when a 26-year-old woman was killed in a drive-by shooting. City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said in a report released Tuesday that the Kenney administration has not spent enough city funding to combat violence in the short term.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia’s $208 million spending plan aimed at combating the alarming rate of gun violence in the city is almost entirely devoted to initiatives that would take at least five years to have an impact, according to the city’s fiscal watchdog.

And, the office said, the short-term initiatives funded over the next year make up an even smaller portion of the budget than they did last year.

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart’s office on Tuesday released an analysis of the city’s antiviolence spending plan that was agreed to in June during budget negotiations between Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and City Council. The funding includes a wide array of initiatives mostly outside traditional law enforcement, including grants to grassroots organizations, social programs that engage potential shooters, and quality-of-life improvements.

It is the second such analysis conducted by Rhynhart’s office, which last year found that only 21% of the city’s $155 million spending plan was intended to support interventions that experts say could yield results in one to three years.

This fiscal year, the administration and Council agreed to increase the overall antiviolence spending plan by 35%, to $208 million. But according to Rhynhart’s office, the amount of money going to short-term interventions barely changed, meaning just 17% of the total spending plan went to those types of programs.

Kenney’s administration pushed back on the analysis, saying it believes more than 70% of its antiviolence budget supports short-term programs — not 17%. It categorizes several strategies as short-term that the controller did not, including quality-of-life improvements and programs that offer alternatives to incarceration for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Spokesperson Kevin Lessard also noted that the antiviolence spending plan that the controller analyzed does not include the nearly $800 million police budget, “which is largely a short-term anti-violence strategy.”

Rhynhart, a frequent critic of Kenney’s response to the city’s gun violence problem, is said to be considering entering the 2023 mayoral race. Under city rules, she’d have to resign from her current job to formally campaign.

Her report comes as the city’s gun violence crisis has continued this year at an unsettling pace. To date, more than 360 people have been killed in homicides — the vast majority by guns — putting the city on pace to match or exceed last year’s record toll.

The victims just this month have included a woman fatally struck by a stray bullet in Frankford and five people shot near a West Philadelphia recreation center. On Sunday, a 4-year-old boy was wounded by gunfire that erupted in a barbershop filled with kids getting haircuts before their first day of school.

Rhynhart said the “difficult reality” of her office’s analysis is that the administration hasn’t fully embraced programs outside law enforcement that aim to stem the bloodshed.

“Until we fund intervention at the level it should be funded, and do it right,” she said, “the violence is likely to continue.”

Here’s a breakdown of the controller’s findings.

Not enough short-term spending

The controller’s office categorized spending in four buckets, which Rhynhart said are used by experts in criminal justice and public health:

  1. Intervention: strategies that could yield results in three years or less

  2. Prevention: medium-term efforts that could show results in five to 10 years

  3. Transformation: long-term development and revitalization initiatives that take 15 to 20 years to show results

  4. Police programs: funding earmarked for law enforcement

About 71% of the $208 million plan in the fiscal year that began in July is dedicated to either preventative or transformational programs. Intervention programs that aim to stem violence in the immediate account for 17% of the investment, and police funding makes up the remaining 12%.

Preventative and transformational programs include strategies like juvenile-justice services, after-school activities, and blight abatement. The antiviolence plan also includes a restoration of $20 million in funding to the Parks and Recreation Department and the Free Library of Philadelphia, which saw significant budget cuts during the pandemic.

» READ MORE: Philly libraries and rec centers are at ‘completely unacceptable’ staffing levels, advocates say

Rhynhart said these are “worthy” investments, but said Philadelphia is still investing substantially less money on short-term intervention programming compared to New York City and Los Angeles. She said the city would need to spend at least $20 million more to reach the same level as those cities.

To do so, she said, the administration should scale up intervention programs already proven to work.

The city hasn’t released evaluations of the programs

Rhynhart’s office said the Kenney administration has not released any evaluation of existing antiviolence programs, including intervention efforts that launched years ago.

She reiterated a call — which she also made last year — for the city to release the data and metrics it is using to track efficacy.

Lessard said the administration plans to release an evaluation of one of its intervention programs — which has neighborhood mentors connect with potential shooters and victims — this fall. A second evaluation of Group Violence Intervention, a similar program run by the city, is scheduled to be released early next year, he said.

The administration failed to distribute all of its grant money

One of the cornerstones of the administration’s plan to combat gun violence in the last fiscal year was a program to provide grants to grassroots organizations that already operate in communities most affected by gun violence.

But the grant-making program became beset by delays, and of $22 million set aside for it, just $13.5 million was spent.

Rhynhart’s office reviewed the 31 organizations that received grants. It found just two programs could be considered short-term because they offer crisis intervention in shooting hotspots or deploy mentors to de-escalate conflicts.

» READ MORE: Experts in violence prevention say Philadelphia’s strategy should be more targeted

Lessard said the grants were made to organizations wishing to expand programs that were already in place, and that 70% of them were for short-term interventions. The administration considers strategies such as jobs programs to be short-term, while the controller’s analysis does not.

An evidence-based jobs program has been delayed for years

The antiviolence plan this fiscal year allocates a new $2 million in spending to implement a jobs program called READI (Rapid Employment and Development Initiative). It’s a short-term intervention modeled on an existing program in Chicago that connects young men at risk of shooting or being shot with job opportunities.

The city has been conducting a “feasibility study” for a year, and has not released results. Officials have been planning the program since at least early 2021, and its launch date has been repeatedly pushed back. Last year, the administration estimated a pilot would launch in January 2022.

Now, Lessard says a test version is expected to start “before the end of this calendar year.”

“Major programs, like READI, especially for the first replication, take time to effectively staff and structure,” he added.

But Rhynhart said getting the program off the ground shouldn’t have taken this long.

“Sometimes trying to create a perfect program is the opposite of getting something done,” she said, “and when people are dying, there needs to be more urgency.”