As murder rate skyrockets, DA Larry Krasner takes on the role of “Good Cop / Good Cop”

Larry Krasner made history again in 2021. The incumbent Philadelphia district attorney who organized a successful outsider campaign for the office in 2017 was widely re-elected this year despite a historic spike in murders plaguing the office. the city of Philadelphia.

And he did so despite attacks from critics, including the local police union, who claim that Krasner’s reformist style of prosecution and his focus on reducing the number of people incarcerated and on surveillance had a cost.

For Krasner, however, the spike in crime has less to do with his policies, and is instead driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of crime prevention programs and efforts that have followed the mandatory closings of the centers. coronavirus in 2020.

The disagreement over what is driving the number of homicides in Philadelphia (the city eclipsed 500 murders in late November for the first time since 1990) reflects a wider debate over the movement to elect more progressive prosecutors – and whether the reforms whether they are looking across the country helping or harming.

Shortly after taking office in 2018, Krasner ended the use of the cash bond for minor offenses, no longer requiring the use of the bond for criminal mischief, impaired driving, counterfeiting, resistance to arrest, prostitution and a host of drug-related charges. It also established new policies designed to reduce the number of people on probation and parole. Notably, under Krasner, the city’s prison population continued to decline.

In an interview with City & State, Krasner said his approach to prosecution centers on a more ‘targeted’ approach to enforcement, “as opposed to this shotgun application, this type of chainsaw surgery, which has been happening for decades in America – which is why we are the most incarcerated country in the world.

“We progressive prosecutors are what works, and that means targeted enforcement. It means reform. And that means taking the massive savings generated by the reduction in mass incarceration and reinvesting them in things that actually work, like education, like treatment for different types of addiction, for mental health, like economic opportunities. , such as investing in communities where there have been decades, if not centuries, of divestment.

Krasner expressed a sense of pride for his first term accomplishments, especially under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the reduction in both future years of incarceration and future years of probation and parole are two important highlights of his first four years.

“We were able to reduce future years of incarceration by approximately 50% over a 27-month period. It’s remarkable, “he said. We were able to reduce future years of supervision in a town notorious for over-supervision on probation and parole. We were able to reduce that by almost two-thirds, again. once, in 27 months. “

These numbers are due to Krasner’s overhaul of the way the prosecutor’s office works. In addition to restricting the use of the cash bond, Krasner has exonerated 24 people through his conviction integrity unit since 2018, highlighted the use of diversion programs, and imposed new policies designed to limit the amount of time a person can spend on probation.

Critics of Krasner, however, have sought to link the city’s growing murder rate to the progressive DA, highlighting his decision to reduce the use of the cash bond, his use of plea deals, as well as his holistic view of criminal justice.

State Representative Martina White, who chairs the Republican City of Philadelphia committee, wrote in a September editorial that the city’s murder rate – which reached 499 murders in 2020 and exceeded 520 this year – is “a direct result of the failure of the leadership of Democratic officials at local and state level”, adding that “violent criminals are no longer afraid of the consequences of their actions”.

“This is thanks to the weak and lawless approach taken by Larry Krasner and his failed policies in the district attorney’s office,” she wrote. “While the police continue to do their jobs and arrest violent criminals for their actions, justice for families affected by gun violence often stops when the district attorney’s office fails to secure convictions – or refuses even to judge. Several youths were murdered by perpetrators who should have been behind bars, but were released due to a bail policy by the prosecutor’s office.

Since Krasner took office in 2018, the city’s murder rate has increased every year: from 353 in 2018 to more than 520 this year. The city began to see an increase in killings from 2017, a year before Krasner took office. But the rise in the murder rate, coupled with an annual increase in withdrawn or dismissed cases since 2015, has fueled Krasner’s harshest criticisms.

Among them? The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the police union representing the city’s police officers. The union backed Krasner’s main opponent, Carlos Vega, who was sacked by Krasner during a purge of DA staff members early in his first term.

John McNesby, president of FOP Lodge 5, criticized Krasner’s use of plea agreements and his focus on reducing incarceration.

“A homicide is too much, but in the 500s, it was crazy. This should not be the case and it is because of the attitude of the district attorney in letting people out of jail. People know they won’t go to jail, ”McNesby said in an interview. “We have a defense attorney who is currently serving as a district attorney, and that’s not good for the city.”

Former US Attorney Bill McSwain, now running for governor, also hit Krasner on his progressive policies as DA. In September 2020, McSwain announced charges against two people in Philadelphia for gun crimes, as well as a murder charge, and sought to tie the plea deals made by Krasner’s office to the alleged and convicted murders that took place after the conclusion of the agreements. He said the murders in the city were directly linked to Krasner’s policies as a prosecutor.

“The staggering homicide and shootout rates in Philadelphia are proof that the district attorney’s radical experiment has failed,” McSwain said at a press conference in September 2020, criticizing what he saw as “tender plea deals” made by Krasner’s office. “We can draw a straight line from these policies to carnage in the streets.”

But Krasner, who is entering his fifth year as a district attorney, said rising rates of murder and gun violence are not unique to Philadelphia.

In a recent interview with The Intercept, Krasner said the pandemic was likely to be behind the upsurge in killings, with after-school programs, arts programs, places of worship and recreation centers all shut down during the peak of times. government closures. “We have seen the complete disruption of normal prevention in society,” he said, adding that the surge in killings is “of young people killing young people with guns.”

In his interview with City & State, he pointed out national data from the Safety and Equity Innovations Research Lab (RISE) at Boston University’s School of Public Health, which found that between 2019 and 2020, the nation’s 50 largest cities experienced a 42% increase in fatal shootings. The percentage increase in Philadelphia in the total number of murders from 2019 to 2020, Krasner noted, was 40% – below the national rate.

Krasner said the increase in the number of withdrawn or dismissed gun cases since 2015 is due to a change in the way police conduct stops in the city, as well as recent court rulings focused on searches and seizures. He said Philadelphia Police make more car stops than pedestrians, which is more difficult to prove in court. “It is much more difficult for a prosecutor to establish which, if any, of these people in the car actually had knowledge of this weapon and intend to exercise control over it, which the law requires.”

Krasner also hit back at those who think he is not taking a strong enough stance on gun possession cases, adding that with these cases “there is no magic predictor” of whether a person arrested for a felony of possession of firearms will continue to commit more violent offenses. According to data from the Krasner Office, the Philadelphia Police Department and the First Judicial District, only 16 of the 1,063 people convicted of unlicensed possession from January 2015 to March 2021 were subsequently arrested for a shooting. “I consider illegal possession of a firearm to be a serious offense,” Krasner said. “But I don’t consider it more serious than shooting people and killing people with guns.”

As for criticism of him, Krasner said it all comes down to one thing: politics.

“We’re back to our usual cheap politics, which is a bunch of Republicans, a bunch of conservatives, a bunch of the worst kind of centrist Democrats, [having] an allergy to data. They are allergic to studies. They have an allergy to the truth. What they like is the rhetoric.

Whether it’s rhetoric or legitimate criticism, progressive prosecutors across the United States have succeeded despite efforts to defeat or even recall them. In Chicago, Kim Foxx was re-elected as Cook County District Attorney last year, and this year an attempted recall of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón failed to secure enough signatures. to go forward.

And in Philadelphia, voters this year signaled by 30- and 40-point margins that they wanted to give Krasner four more years to meet his second-term goals: leveraging alternatives to prosecution, tackling gun violence. from a public health perspective. and fight for the end of the cash bond.

And in Krasner’s eyes, voters gave him a mandate to do so. “This is what people really want in the United States,” he said. “The mainstream Democratic Party didn’t get it, but it actually is what Americans want.”

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