Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has proposed increased spending on new tactics to fight gun-violence as homicide and shooting rates continue to rise in Philadelphia.
Speaking in front of City Council members in a Zoom hearing on Wednesday, Outlaw mentioned the Philadelphia Police Department’s current struggles, like the 50 percent conviction rate for homicides, while naming new challenges — most notably, a spike in juvenile shootings.
Proposed spending would increase access to mobile technology for homicide detectives, purchase new equipment in the forensics department, and buy digital media analytics software in an effort to increase arrest rates for shootings. In total, Outlaw proposed spending an additional $1.6 million from the city budget.
Outlaw’s proposal comes as deaths and injuries from gun violence in Philadelphia have increased this year. In 2021 alone, there have been 119 shooting deaths in the city — a 30 percent increase from the same time period in 2020. Of the 463 non-fatal shootings this year, 60 were children, a trend that both City Council and Outlaw focused on throughout the hearing.
According to an investigation into the root causes of shootings in Philadelphia, some perpetrators of gun violence, most of them teenagers, are using social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram to escalate real-life altercations.
“There’s a saying, as cheesy as it sounds — ‘use your words,’ Outlaw said about juvenile shootings resulting from social media feuds. “But they’re not using their words, they’re turning to guns.”
Councilmember Curtis Jones, who reviewed the investigation, said it was found that PPD homicide detectives were underprepared to navigate these digital feuds.
“We are being outperformed in technology,” Jones said. “Offenders know how to use social media more than our departments, and know how to use social media to incite violence in our city. We have to fight fire with fire.”
In October, two men in their 20s were shot outside a home in West Philadelphia by a pair of teenagers, ages 15 and 18. The teens believed they were killing members of a rival gang, and bragged about the shooting in posts on Instagram that were used as evidence in their arrest.
In addition to training detectives in social media, spending would provide officers with city-issued cell phones and upgraded video recovery equipment. Outlaw also mentioned promising developments in the department’s “Mobility Pilot Project,” which gives some officers a mobile data platform on their phone and allows them to quickly search police records while at a crime scene. Outlaw said the technology ultimately helps cut down the time it takes to investigate shootings.
Spending also seeks to bolster the Office of Forensics Science Technology with new equipment, which would help the department process increased amounts of evidence this year. The proposal mentions a quantum 3D comparison microscope, a 3D scanner for crime scene use, and funding for law enforcement analytics service Celebrite Premium. According to the company’s website, Celebrite is used to overcome iOS device locks, perform data extraction, and gain access to messages, social media, email, and deleted files.
The proposed spending allots $145,000 for Celebrite Premium, though Outlaw did not mention specifically how the department intends to use the service in gun violence cases.
After Outlaw’s presentation, councilmembers proposed further economic options to combat the crisis, including spending more on surveillance cameras throughout the city.
Councilmember Alan Domb recommended investing in cameras for the eight districts most plagued by shootings, while Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson suggested the city amend the tax credit it gives to small businesses for installing cameras to also include residential buildings.