Philadelphia will be among the 15 cities using federal dollars to join a national initiative that would see participating municipalities collaborate on violence intervention strategies.
The initiative comes after the Treasury Department announced that $350 billion of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan can be used in community violence intervention programs. It would also allow participating municipalities to use the money to hire more police officers.
Over the next 18 months, President Joe Biden’s administration will convene leaders and community member from the selected cities to “facilitate peer-to-peer learning, and provide technical assistance,” the White House said in announcing the strategy.
“This effort will support both proven and new strategies that reduce gun violence and strengthen community-based infrastructure to enhance public safety for children, families, and communities and to advance equity,” the White House said.
Violent crime increased during the pandemic, but while Republicans have attempted to paint it as a problem afflicting cities run by liberal leaders, research shows such crimes rose nationwide.
For its part, Philadelphia is on pace to have one of its deadliest years on record.
As of Tuesday night, at least 261 people had been killed, according to data from the Philadelphia Police Department. Furthermore, PPD statistics showed 1,740 shooting incidents as of the week ending June 20. The Philadelphia Controller’s Office, meanwhile, showed 787 people had been wounded and 226 killed by gunfire as of Tuesday.
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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference that his administration was still reviewing the new federal violence prevention initiative. However, he welcomed provisions in the plan that would target illegal guns.
“What we need as cities is the help from the federal government when it comes to controlling the flow of guns and, frankly, the flow of drugs,” Kenney said. “Certainly, our police can handle on the street the day-to-day stuff that needs to be handled, but when the guns are flowing into cities across the country, there’s got to be something the federal government can do, and I’m hoping that they do that.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office has been working to stem gun violence in Philadelphia, welcomed the new violence intervention program as a “comprehensive public safety effort.
“This plan will help build up short staffed local police departments and launch proven violence intervention programs that our communities are demanding,” Shapiro said.
The provision allowing the hiring of more police officers runs counter to the wishes of some progressives to “defund the police” following several high-profile incidents of law enforcement officers killing civilians, including the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Biden, however, made it clear during the 2020 presidential election cycle that he does not support defunding the police, and instead called for “reform” within departments.
The president called on Congress to pass a police reform bill by the anniversary of Floyd’s death last month, but that date came and went without action from legislators. A group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers is now attempting to draft bipartisan reform legislation.
Kenney addressed the difficulty in balancing the need to stem crime while also listening to the desires of people concerned with over-policing.
“Part of the issue … is the number of police that are available. We were not in an environment to have a conversation about increasing the level of police in the city because people are concerned about the amount of money that the police department was getting,” Kenney said, alluding to the city budget. “So, there’s a lot of back and forth on what folks want and what other folks are willing to provide and pay for.”
Nevertheless, the $5.2 billion fiscal 2022 budget increases the police department’s budget by $2 million for equipping officers with stun guns, WHYY reported. His administration did not respond to an email from NBC10 asking whether the city would also use federal funds to hire more officers.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said there are currently about 6,000 police officers in the city. While there are some concerns about a new requirement that mandates police recruits reside in Philadelphia for at least a year before being hired, Outlaw said she is “optimistic” that there are already enough potential officers who can be found within city borders.