As the clock struck midnight to begin 2022, Philadelphia set a new record for homicides: 562. In both 2020 and 2021, Philadelphia recorded more murders that than cities like New York and Los Angeles, both of which have three times the population. The climb of Philadelphia’s murder rate has been drastic since 2016, with a steady increase of murders each year since that city’s death toll of 277.
There has been a steady obfuscation from city leaders, shifting the blame from COVID to the economy to state gun laws to illegal guns. Rarely, however, have any of these leaders who took oaths to uphold our laws and keep us safe; actually taken responsibility for the tragic loss of life that has cast a pall over the birthplace of America.
This article breaks down a ranking of who shares the responsibility for this sharp rise in violent crime, and why the public needs to hold them accountable to stop this deadly trajectory.
#5 TIE: The media
If you’re one of the few Philadelphians who read PW, BigTrial, Broad + Liberty, or follow Steve Keeley’s coverage on Fox 29, this section may not apply. However, in looking at the “paper of record” and largest broadcast news shows, you can’t help but wonder why Mayor Jim Kenney, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and DA Larry Krasner have avoided any hard questions regarding their culpability for the city’s record homicide rate.
The Inquirer has shifted toward more biased, agenda-driven journalism over the last five years. Consider that they initially endorsed Beth Grossman against Larry Krasner in 2017, they shifted to the left and endorsed Krasner against Vega in 2021. Furthermore, almost all coverage in television and print following a homicide is dubbed as “gun violence”, with a slant toward the “epidemic of crime” vs. the criminal and what could have been done to stop them.
There is a clear bias in the Inquirer’s political coverage. By publishing stories heavily tinged with race or social ideology, while not holding Krasner, Kenney, and Outlaw accountable for being ineffective in keeping us safe, the mainstream media is part of the problem.
#5 TIE: Sheriff Rochelle Bilal and the First Judicial District
The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office has been scandal-ridden and corrupt for over thirty years, and most Philadelphians have no idea what they are supposed to do, what they actually do, and how poorly they do it. The Sheriff’s Office is supposed to be the primary civil law enforcement agency in a county. That does not mean that they are supposed to be a second police department but in most cities, sheriffs perform prisoner processing, manage jails, serve warrants, and enforce custody support, evictions, and actions against nuisance properties.
In Philadelphia, some of that happens – but at a rate far below other counties. The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office mainly transports prisoners, provides court security, and occasionally runs foreclosure sales. The warrant squad, which was once part of the court system, is also back under the Sheriff’s command.
Truly an embarrassment to the city was the election of Rochelle Bilal. Bilal was a former Philadelphia Police Officer who was caught “double dipping” as the public safety director in Colwyn Borough, a violation of the law that served as the end of both careers. She ran as a “reform” candidate highlighting her gender in light of the fact that her predecessor, Jewell Williams, was marred by sexual harassment litigation during his administration. But Bilal’s election proved to be worse on the office’s already abysmal ethics record –she held a party for corrupt former Sheriff John Green after his federal conviction, fired her fiscal watchdog, and lost more than 200 firearms from her property room in her first two years of office.
As if wasn’t enough of a contributor to the societal decay that leads to a record murder rate – sources within the Sheriff’s office report that Bilal has instituted a policy where sheriffs will not transport prisoners to the courts if they had been housed on a cellblock with a COVID-19 positive inmate. This practice has all but assured that suspects are not being brought to court for their appearances, forcing judges to reschedule them at a cost to the attorneys, juries, court reporters, police officers, and witnesses.
At the same time, the judges and management of the First Judicial District share some of the responsibility, too. While many jurisdictions across America use video technology and night-court to assure that a steady backlog of non-jury court appearances continue through the pandemic, Philadelphia courts languished in shutdowns and backlogs. This served to delay the administration of justice for thousands of criminals left on the streets because of the low bail (or no bail) or reduced charging policies of the District Attorney’s Office. Many of them graduated to more serious crimes.
#4 Attorney General Josh Shapiro
Government without oversight can never be accountable. In the Pennsylvania criminal justice system, that oversight is supposed to come from the Attorney General. Josh Shapiro ran for Attorney General as a political stepping stone toward the governor’s office, with no background as a prosecutor or litigator.
Political motivation is common, but Shapiro’s is deadly for the residents of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the state’s two biggest cities. Shapiro vowed to not step down as the state’s top law enforcement official as he seeks to replace Gov. Tom Wolf in 2022, claiming that “There is too much work to do in the AG’s office, so I’m going to keep doing that work.” Meanwhile, it’s the nature of how he has failed to do “that work” that has contributed to Philadelphia’s record murders since he has been the state’s top law enforcement officer.
The Attorney General is responsible for prosecuting misconduct at local District Attorneys’ offices, but despite numerous scandals under Krasner, Shapiro’s office has provided no public probe into the reports of misconduct, perjury, and other crimes. Instead, he works on national issues popular with his base, like pursuing a grand-jury investigation and charges against the state’s fracking industry. Shapiro gained national attention in fighting the Little Sisters of the Poor over an issue that had already been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In simple terms, there are only two offices that can prosecute violations for state law in Philadelphia, the District Attorney and Attorney General – and both seem more concerned with their political aspirations than they do with keeping murderers off the street.
#3 Commissioner Danielle Outlaw
The reasons for Danielle Outlaw’s failure as a police commissioner are not all her own. The truth is, Kenney should never had appointed someone with her track record for the role, especially for the stated reasons he did so. That said, once you accept the job, the responsibility to protect citizens is now yours, and Commissioner Outlaw has not lived up to that level of responsibility.
The numbers do not lie. When Outlaw was appointed, there were 356 murders a year recorded in Philadelphia, which shot up to 499 in 2020, before reaching 562 in 2021. Just like Kenney, Outlaw seemed tone-deaf from the start of her administration. While Philadelphians of color were being slaughtered in the street, Outlaw’s first directive was to allow officers to wear colored nail polish – apparently to accommodate her own tastes.
Since then, she has been conspicuously less visible than her last three predecessors, and when she does emerge, it’s to pose on social media or speak in platitudes about her strategies for ending the surge in violent crime. At the same time, confidential police sources tell PW that she has sidelined the city’s elite Highway Patrol and Strike Force units, relegating their once targeted deployments to visibility and traffic work. She has also reassigned beloved District Captains and failed to speak out against the “driving equality bill,” in which City Council has ordered her officers to allow dangerous vehicle code violations to go unenforced to promote “racial equity”.
While it’s true that crime rose nationwide following a wave of progressive prosecutor elections and surged when courts closed during COVID, the vast majority of police executives nationwide would kill to have the resources afforded to the Philadelphia Police Department. Outlaw has squandered that opportunity, placing her image as a “woke” police leader in front of her duty to protect the citizens of our diverse city.
#2 Mayor Jim Kenney
When it comes to crime, Jim Kenney has made it abundantly clear that he is not up to the task. One may recall the shooting of Police Officer Jesse Hartnett on the evening of January 7, 2016, the week Kenney was inaugurated. Hartnett was shot several times in the left arm fending off an attempted assassination by Edward Archer, a radicalized career criminal pledging allegiance to ISIS. The night of the shooting, Kenney first made a statement blaming the availability of guns, a problem because Archer had used a stolen police service weapon – and that there was no nexus to terrorism, also a problem because Kenney had viewed interview room footage where Archer told detectives he was radicalized by ISIS.
Since then, after losing the support of the city’s political machine, Kenney has painted himself in a “woke corner”, parroting national progressive talking points more native to places like Portland and San Francisco than the nation’s poorest big city. Meanwhile, crime has skyrocketed. Instead of using the nation’s 4th-largest police department to protect the public, Kenney toes the party line.
Kenney’s new-found “wokeness” led to his most dangerous policy decision yet. In 2019, merely a week after being proclaimed a hero for resolving a mass-shooting with no fatalities, Commissioner Richard Ross was fired by Kenney for a trumped-up claim that he failed to act properly regarding allegations of sexual harassment occurring several ranks under his command. Many attributed Kenney’s firing to Ross’s refusal to conduct unlawful mass terminations of officers or off-duty social media posts as Kenney wanted. Kenney publicly proclaimed that the next Police Commissioner would be an African-American woman.
This narrowed a nationwide search to only three possible candidates, Renee Hall – the former Detroit Police Deputy Chief and Dallas Police Chief, Carmen Best – the Seattle Police Chief who stood against CHOP/CHAZ, and Danielle Outlaw – the Portland Police Chief who drew national criticism for the regular, unchecked riots occurring in her city. The appointment of a role this vital was normally based on experience, not political optics.
#1 (with a bullet) District Attorney Larry Krasner
Larry Krasner, a career defense lawyer with no experience as a prosecutor was elected District Attorney. Krasner benefitted from over $1.3M in illicit campaign financing from George Soros and an open seat, former DA Seth Williams went to jail. Krasner beat a crowded primary and general election against career DA’s office Chief Beth Grossman to win the city’s top law enforcement office. Say what you will about Krasner, he has been true to his campaign promises to end bail and “mass incarceration” in Philadelphia. It has been his only apparent focus – with deadly results.
At the end of 2017, the city recorded 315 homicides and the number increased every year since. While Krasner denies this correlation, evidence comes to light following the arrest of murder suspects that bail was not requested, charges were reduced, or cases were plead out by Krasner’s office. Criminals were left on the street to commit heinous murders through the action (or inaction) of the DA’s Office.
Krasner has run under the guise of the “reformer” of an “unjust system,” but numerous scandals have emerged that illustrate a lack of oversight within his administration that rivals his incarcerated predecessor. This is highlighted by his recent settlement with the Board of Ethics in which he had admitted to egregious violations of campaign finance laws for the second election in a row. Regardless, Krasner has used these donations to create an unstoppable media image of him as a warrior against racial injustice; which has eclipsed the realities that a wealthy white male has used illegal donations from out-of-state to win an unfair advantage against a single, professional woman in 2017 and the state’s first Latino to become a chief of homicide prosecution in 2021. Meanwhile, the vast majority of those murdered on Krasner’s watch have been from the black and brown communities – which serves of a harsh reminder of reality in contrast to the fallacies of Krasner’s well-echoed talking points.