By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — The city will begin the school year with at least 32 homicides of school-age children.
Those murders of minors, in addition to 137 shooting victims of those under the age of 18, come as the Kenney administration and Philadelphia Police Department rolled out no new programs to protect students this fall beyond those already in place as the city continues to suffer from historic levels of violence.
“No, nothing’s new,” Deputy Commissioner Joel Dales admitted during the Kenney administration’s update on the city’s gun violence Wednesday in response to a question from the media.
Cops won’t be at all schools, too.
Dales said officers will be assigned to school corridors that have experienced high levels of violence. Cops will conduct “periodic checks” around other schools, like those that don’t participate in the school district’s volunteer Safe Corridors program.
“We have a lot of schools so don’t expect to have police officers posted at each school,” Dales said.
Mayor Jim Kenney said a focus for the school year is for principals and community members to communicate more with law enforcement so police “know how to deploy appropriately and are ready and can try to anticipate when things are happening or might happen.”
Dales said he was unable to provide how many officers will be assigned at each school because, among other reasons, officers must testify in court during the week. This draws down the number of cops on the street.
Kenney said the police department continues to struggle with recruiting officers — “People don’t want to be police officers as much as they used to be — and blamed the residency requirement for police officers passed by City Council.
“We’re confined to hiring only from the city of Philadelphia,” Kenney said. “People have to establish a residency for a year before they can apply for the job so we’re a bit hampered with our ability to increase our police force as people begin to retire.”
Police retirements have been on the rise in recent years and spiked in 2020.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw did not take part in the final bi-weekly update on the city’s violence before the start of the school year on Aug. 31 and as violence was still surging in the city.
A spokesperson for the city said Outlaw was “unavailable today.”
The homicide rate was 339 as of Wednesday, up 22% compared to the same time last year, according to the police department’s online dashboard. The main motives for homicides continue to be arguments, drugs and domestic violence incidents, according to police.
Shooting victims reached 1,448 as of Sunday, up 21% compared to the same time in 2020, according to police.
Police continue to make more arrests for firearm violations the same time last year, 61% and 31% respectively, according to police.
The homicide clearance rate is around 43%, police said, meaning more than half of all killings go unsolved.
The Kenney administration provides programs to help keep children engaged and safe during the school year. The city also will fund more than 50 community organizations to provide 128 out-of-school-time programs, which are expected to serve 6,100 students in the fall. Kenney said the investment in out-of-school activities for students is more than in the past, but did not provide details.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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