City officials held the second bi-monthly gun violence update on Wednesday night, but did not deliver the expected update to the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities. Instead, Mayor Jim Kenney, PPD Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, public health experts and officials from various city departments spoke on the importance of community organizing, youth engagement, grant-funding, and other complements to law enforcement in fighting the gun violence epidemic. Alternative and supportive methods were praised as necessary partners for law enforcement in working towards a safer city.
Mayor Kenney began the meeting by delaying the promised update to the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities. He announced that instead, the plan would be unveiled at the next briefing, to be held on Wednesday, April 14, when the mayor presents his budget to City Council.
“We’ve been working across the government,” said Kenney, “to update the roadmap in light of the senseless shootings and other challenges caused by the pandemic.”
The update presentation was initially planned for March 17, but was put off until Wednesday’s meeting, due to unfinished changes to the Roadmap. This time, Mayor Kenney claims that the the plan’s unveiling will wait because the city has received new resources from the American Rescue Plan that can be redirected towards anti-gun violence efforts. Philadelphia is expected to receive as much as 1.4 billion dollars in addition to funding for PA state coffers under the relief bill and Kenney says that a plan without this new information would be incomplete.
“In light of the federal aid the city is receiving from the American Rescue Plan, and the fact that in 2 weeks I’ll present a budget and 5-year plan to City Council, we decided to wait until budget week to share the full scope of our updates,” said Kenney. “So in the next update, we will provide details about how we will invest in strategies in Roadmap 2.0. I believe you’ll see the fuller picture this way.”
After Kenney’s comments, several public health experts and city officials gave presentations on their anti-violence efforts. OCJS Senior Director for Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Erica Atwood outlined the new social media accounts and online initiatives created for the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Engagement Strategy. Her plan aims to foster stronger relationships between city officials and organizers in neighborhoods most affected by violence. Beyond volunteer events and park clean-ups, the cornerstone of this program is the provision of grant funding to organizations and individuals working in heavily impacted communities. In her closing statements, Atwood congratulated the latest community grant recipients.
“This is funding that we are giving to grassroots organizations that are focused on interrupting the cycle of violence,” Atwood said. “These grants range from about $7,500 to about $20,000, and we are giving about $400,000 to 30 community groups.”
One of the grant recipients present at the briefing, Chantay Love, represents local activist organization Every Murder is Real (EMIR). Love and the activists within EMIR represent have been highly praised for their efforts and serves as examples of the target groups for this funding. Further grants to similar groups will be announced in the near future in a continuous attempt to strengthen on-the-ground organizers and activists.
“When we get together we can make magic happen,” Love said. “We can change the environment for our communities: black and brown communities, impoverished communities that are riddled with bullets. change the environment so that young people have the opportunity not only to live, not only to just survive, but to thrive. That’s extremely important.”
Commissioner Outlaw followed the previous speakers to provide public safety updates along with Dep. Commissioners Joel Dales and Ben Nash.
“Despite our officers tremendous efforts,” Outlaw said, “we continue to be plagued by gun violence. You’ve heard me say it before and I’m going to keep saying it: this isn’t simply just a policing problem. Our entire community has to work together to help turn this around.”
According to Outlaw’s update, there have been 491 reported shootings in Philadelphia over the past year. 120 of those shootings were homicides and many of the victims were children.
“I use the words stats and statistics,” Outlaw said, “but I want to remind everyone that these are human beings. There are human beings at the end of every one of these numbers and at the end of every heat map is someone’s loved one.”
Dep. Commissioner Dales gave a short presentation on the alleged success of Operation Pinpoint, which has been credited with a doubling in arrests related to violations of the uniform firearms act (VUFA) in the targeted areas. These arrests have also accounted for a major increase in police weapon confiscations since January 2020.
“This year VUFA arrests are up by 99 percent,” Dales said. “We are now at 816 VUFA arrests vs 411 last year – that’s a significant increase.”
Dep. Commissioner Nash closed out the presentation by requesting information on unsolved cases, including the March 26 shootings on Olney Ave. He urged community members to contact the PPD and share any information that would lead to the arrest of the shooting’s suspects. There is a standing, 20 thousand dollar reward for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a homicide suspect.
“I want to take this opportunity,” Nash said, “to remind everyone that all tips to help us identify and locate dangerous criminals can be called into our tip line at 215-686-TIPS.”
Outlaw began taking questions from reporters in the virtual meeting, but provided no further updates. Other city officials such as Manager Tumar Alexandar joined in to answer various questions, and all present echoed the desire for further community participation and engagement with local officials and law enforcement.
The next gun violence briefing will be held online Wednesday, April 14th. Mayor Kenney is expected to finally unveil the Roadmap 2.0 he has promised before he announces his new budget proposal on the 15th.