Mayor John Linder remembers what he calls the city's version of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy like it was yesterday.
It happened roughly two years ago when a shooting occurred during a birthday party at Minaret Temple No. 174 in Chester. The April 8, 2011, tragedy left two teenagers dead and seven other people injured.
Linder, a Democrat, was a member of city council at the time and was the city's director of public safety. He remembered the chaos that filled the streets after the shooting.
"That's our Sandy Hook,'' he said while recalling the incident. "When we walked down the street, it was like a war zone.''
The landscape of the quaint, rural village of Sandy Hook, Conn., is different from the urban environment of the city of Chester, which covers about 4.77 square miles and is home to about 34,800 residents.
"Sandy Hook is 26 people killed in one day,'' said Linder. "In Chester, it is 23 people killed in one year. So in Chester, it's cumulative and developmental. In Sandy Hook, it's instantaneous. But it's not any less traumatic in Chester than it is in Sandy Hook.''
Delaware County, like other areas of Pennsylvania and the country, has been affected by gun violence over the years.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan, a Republican, said gun violence is a problem in the county. Whelan said he recognized it was a problem and he formulated the Anti-Violence Task Force last year for the purpose of addressing violence throughout the county, particularly gun violence. Assistant District Attorney George Dawson is chief of the Delaware County District Attorney's Office Anti-Violence Task Force.
As of June 18, there were 14 homicides in the county this year. All of those homicides were shooting deaths except for one.
The majority of homicides in recent years in the county have occurred in the city of Chester. In addition, the majority of the homicides in recent years in the county were firearm-related.
There were 32 total homicides in the county last year; 23 occurred in Chester. In 2011, there were 34 total homicides in the county, 21 of them in Chester, according to Daily Times records. In 2010, there were 35 total homicides in the county, with 24 in Chester.
In Upper Darby, Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said there is gun violence in any community. "It crosses all social and ethnic backgrounds,'' he said.
Chitwood estimated there are about 9,000-11,000 gun-related homicides in the country every year. The township of Upper Darby is one the largest townships in the country. About 82,000 residents live in the approximately 8.5 square-mile municipality. Despite that, there is a low rate of gun-related homicides. Only two unsolved gun-related homicides occurred in the time period of 2007-2011, according to statistics provided by Chitwood.
"Our clearance rate for homicides is phenomenal,'' he said.
Chitwood and other law enforcement officials in Delaware County noted that guns are often found with drugs. They also said that the majority of gun-related crimes are committed with handguns rather than so-called long guns.
In terms of future solutions, Chitwood said doctors, judges, lawyers and politicians all need to fight the powerful National Rifle Association. Chitwood said he does not know if there is one particular way to battle gun violence but he supports proposals such as establishing universal background checks, tightening gun show loopholes and focusing on mental health issues.
Chitwood said the easiest place to buy a gun in Upper Darby is on the street. "It's easier to buy a gun than it is to buy a cheesesteak,'' he said.
"I would say unequivocally based on my years of experience that the majority of people who are committing crimes with guns, (aren't) getting guns legally,'' he said. "You've got the straw purchases, you got the burglaries ... That's where the guns are coming from _ on the street.''
Similar to Chitwood, Upper Darby Police Capt. George Rhoades Jr. said the majority of shootings are drug related. He said it's important to get drug dealers off the street and work closely with the township's health department to close down homes where the drug dealers live while absentee landlords repair the properties. He also stressed the importance of proper policing. There are 133 officers employed by the Upper Darby Police Department.
"Again, we're the largest community around here, if not first or second in the state,'' said Chitwood. "So we do a lot of proactive aggressive policing. And I think that helps keep the numbers down and certainly when you look at the solvability factor that's even more significant, because you're not going to stop these random shootings. There's just not enough police to do it. So we take that aggressive patrol."
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