ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: A new year requires a better plan to tackle gun violence crisis

It took about 90 minutes for Philadelphia to experience its first homicide of 2022.

By 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, a 33-year-old had been fatally shot in Feltonville. Less than 20 minutes later, four miles away near Temple University, a 16-year-old was shot and killed. The first two homicide victims of 2022 were among 14 people who were shot on the first day of the new year.

The grim statistics hardly do justice to the mounting toll of gun violence in our city: 562 lives lost last year and another roughly 1,800 people who were shot and survived.

In 2021, the city reached a bleak milestone in notching a record number of homicides. Now, the question city officials should be asking themselves is: How do we keep it from happening again in 2022?

Philadelphia is trying to do many things that broadly fall under the umbrella of gun violence prevention. In 2020, the city rebooted the anti-crime strategy known as focused deterrence in a program called Group Violence Intervention in an effort to engage would-be shooters. The Office of Violence Prevention continues to expand its street outreach program, and the city’s last budget committed $68 million in new anti-violence spending. In January 2019, city officials released what they called “The Roadmap for Safer Communities.” Mayor Jim Kenney also holds a briefing on gun violence every other week, and both the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office are all-too-eager to report that they are doing their jobs well — and that they have the data to prove it.

And yet, nearly 1,100 people have been killed in our city in the past two years.

The unfortunate reality is that Philadelphia’s anti-violence efforts are lacking evaluation, coordination, and a sense of urgency from the top.

The Office of Violence Prevention programs continue to go unevaluated. A progress report on Group Violence Intervention was due last October. When that deadline passed, the release was expected by the end of the year. We are still waiting.

An audit by the city controller, Rebecca Rhynhart, found that only 21% of the city’s much-touted funding for prevention is focused on the short term.

At the same time, basic city services that can help reduce instances of gun violence — such as opening libraries and fixing street lights — aren’t being fulfilled.

City officials can draw on any number of excuses for why, despite all the city’s efforts, gun violence continues to rise — the coronavirus, national trends, inaction on gun control in Harrisburg — but we can’t claim gun violence is our priority while leaving people in the neighborhoods that are most affected literally in the dark.

One of this board’s resolutions for the new year is to remain vigilant in our coverage to ensure that the city’s efforts to reduce gun violence are working. We propose a new year’s resolution for every entity in city government: Before every action, decision, or new program, ask how it contributes to reducing gun violence — and communicate the answer. That’s the kind of commitment a crisis of this magnitude requires.

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