Philadelphia City Hall (Image via pxHere.com)
By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — While President Joe Biden has already signaled Philadelphia will receive new support to combat its gun violence crisis, city officials are pressing for more help.
This past week, Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, along with the city and state’s two top prosecutors, called on the Biden administration to set up a multijurisdictional firearm trafficking task force in Philadelphia, similar to those launching in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C., with federal backing.
In a letter to Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Philadelphia and state officials questioned why the City of Brother Love was not tapped to set up such a task force when it has a higher per-capita homicide rate than those other cities except for Washington.
“In fact, Philadelphia’s gun violence has been increasing dramatically since 2013, and our agencies, along with our non-law enforcement partners, have lacked the resources needed to fully combat it,” the letter said.
Although the city has several partnerships with federal and state law enforcement agencies to combat gun violence, that’s not enough, Philadelphia and state officials said in the letter.
“While these existing collaborations are critical, the data show unequivocally that we need more help,” the city and state officials said.
District Attorney Larry Krasner and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro also endorsed the letter.
Kenney spokeswoman Deana Gamble said in an email that the proposed task force is related to reducing the flow of firearms into Philadelphia.
“Our police officers are taking a record number of guns off the streets but they are instantaneously replaced, so we need all the support we can get from the federal government on that front,” Gamble said.
Molly Stieber, a spokeswoman for Shapiro, said in an email that the proposed task force would focus on the “flow of illegal firearms along with additional resources.”
Asked how the proposed task force would differ from the ongoing partnerships with federal law enforcement agencies, Stieber said: “We would hope that this would mean additional resources to combat gun trafficking and more involvement of the federal partners.”
Last week, the Biden administration allowed some municipalities to tap into the federal funding they received as part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package to reduce gun violence.
Biden also named Philadelphia and 14 other cities to take part in a new effort to expand community-based violence interruption programs.
Dubbed the community violence intervention collaborative, Philadelphia will meet regularly with peer cities, share technical assistance, pinpoint best practices and more.
The latest letter made clear that the Biden administration’s new plan didn’t go far enough to stem the rising tide of violence here.
The city’s homicide rate is reaching historic highs.
After killings in 2020 reached a three-decade high, the city’s homicide rate was up 35% on Friday compared to the same time last year, with 273 murders, according to the police department’s online database.
As of last week, African Americans accounted for 82% of the killings and nearly 86% of all shooting victims, according to the police department.
While city officials were calling for more federal help, their own efforts have fallen well short of demands from Black religious leaders and even Philadelphia legislators.
The Kenney administration and members of City Council earmarked a total of $155 million in violence prevention efforts — an increase of $68 million over last year — in the city’s budget for the new fiscal year, which began Thursday.
The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity called for $100 million in new funding for anti-violence efforts in the new budget. And 13 members of City Council — a veto-proof majority — even demanded Kenney invest $100 million in new funding for reducing gun violence.
This past week, Krasner joined members of the Black Clergy to call on the city’s largest businesses, nonprofits and universities to contribute funds toward the anti-violence efforts.
A state law prevents Philadelphia from putting its own firearm regulations in place.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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