Last year was the deadliest year in Philadelphia’s 340-year history. In 2021, 562 people were murdered in the city of brotherly love, 63 more than the 499 killed in 2020, the year that tied the record set in the notorious “crack explosion” era of 1990. While these homicides were a daily staple of local broadcast and print news, what is notably absent from coverage and official pressers was any sense of accountability by the political leaders charged with keeping us safe.
The lack of any use of a bully pulpit or adult responsibility for this deadly toll has placed a bright light on the ineptitude of our state and local government and the dangerous agenda of outside political donors. The vast majority of the city’s record number of murder victims were black and brown, a harsh reality that contrasts with the “woke” agendas of the city’s white Mayor, District Attorney, Governor, and Attorney General. All of these men rejected proven criminal justice policies despite the surge of death and despair impacting the communities they claim to represent.
Historically, the bully pulpit serves as a vital tool used by public officials to uphold their duty of care for their constituents, despite any limitations that may exist due to their scope of office. Through the bully pulpit, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney should have ordered his appointed Police Commissioner to increase police activity in the areas hit hardest by violent crime. Both the Mayor and City Council have a responsibility to speak out against the dangerous policies of District Attorney Larry Krasner, whose office has drastically reduced charging, pre-trial detention requests, and convictions, all of which play a major role in the city’s rising violent crime.
READ MORE — Thom Nickels: What Philadelphia was like the last time it had a 500 murder year
At the same time, City Council shares this failure of accountability, considering they control the purse-strings for a clearly dysfunctional District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, and Police Department – but has yet to conduct any official inquiry related to blame for the city’s record carnage. Moreover, when the city’s hierarchy of accountability had clearly failed, Governor Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro neglected to take any effective action to stem the tide of violence in the State’s two largest cities, a true failure of oversight.
History shows the proper use of a bully pulpit along with proven crime-fighting strategies can save lives. On February 12, 1996, Galina Komar was murdered at her desk in a busy car dealership in Queens, New York, by her abusive boyfriend, Benito Oliver, who then killed himself. A month and a half before the murder, Judge Lorin Duckman had released Oliver after only six days in jail, asking the multiple felon and convicted rapist, “How much bail can you make?” prior to his release. Komar had serious, visible injuries and Oliver’s arrest record showed a long history of family violence, but Duckman still released Oliver, enabling his eventual escalation of violence to murder.
Aspects of this case seem like a window into the current-day policies of Krasner and newly elected Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, both of whom received questionable campaign finance from billionaire George Soros. Currently, like Komar case, progressive DAs in cities like New York and Philadelphia are not asking for bail or enforcing sentencing guidelines for suspects arrested multiple times for drug dealing, robbery, theft, and illegal weapons offenses, leaving local judges out on a limb to pursue penalties that protect the public. What set the Komar case apart in 1996 was how the Mayor and Governor used their respective bully pulpits to send a clear message to a criminal justice community that failed to do its duty.
When the gruesome facts of the case emerged in 1996, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appeared at the crime scene, having been briefed on Oliver’s history of run-ins with law enforcement. Over the next few weeks, both Giuliani and Governor George Pataki made their case for the removal of Judge Duckman, even though the New York State unified court system is outside the management authority of the Governor or Mayor. This pressure led to Pataki’s formation of a commission and the removal of Duckman, marking the first time a New York State Governor removed a sitting judge since 1872.
Duckman’s removal sent a message to those who had governed the administration of justice through the lenses of their political beliefs – that their duty of care is toward law-abiding citizens and the victims of crime first. Failing to protect them comes with consequences.
So where are those consequences now?
In Philadelphia, police and district attorney’s office sources shared court documents with reporters from Broad + Liberty, Fox 29, BigTrial.net, and the Philadelphia Weekly showing that many murder suspects were currently on bail or released on plead-down charges by Krasner’s office. There was little to no outrage from City Hall. When crime in New York skyrocketed following the passage of reckless bail reform and police use of force laws, there was also no outrage voiced by the de Blasio administration. This absence of political fortitude may be explained by the lack of bipartisan checks and balances in New York and Philadelphia. Furthermore, the egregious amount of outside super-PAC money that has flowed into local prosecutor elections from George Soros and Silicon Valley billionaires presents a threat to the reelection hopes of moderate Democrats if they speak up.
If Galena Komar’s murder was enough to change the way domestic cases are prosecuted in New York, why haven’t the senseless murders in Philadelphia prompted political backlash here? It’s hard to imagine Ed Rendell or Michael Nutter staying silent as the media covers murders like Temple University students Milan Loncar and Sam Collington, pregnant mother Jessica Covington, security guard Nassir Day, or mall shopper Dominic Billa. A 10-year old girl shot and killed by her uncle, Tyree Miles — a career criminal who was playing with an illegal weapon — was one of more than 60 homicide victims in Philadelphia last year who were just seventeen years old or younger.
Even in New York, the bully pulpit has disappeared. The Komar case was championed by Rudy Giuliani, the first Republican New York Mayor in 50 years, and George Pataki, the first Republican New York Governor in 20 years. Under their leadership, New York saw the greatest drop in crime in American history. Now, a generation later, cash is king and mega-donors have crafted a message that have led to the election of local prosecutors who are changing laws by creating policies to not enforce them, a violation of their oaths of office that have led to thousands of senseless murders nationwide.
A 10-year old girl shot and killed by her uncle … was one of more than 60 homicide victims in Philadelphia last year who were just seventeen years old or younger.
This is the case with the election of Alvin Bragg to one of the nation’s most prominent prosecutor’s offices. Amid a surge in crime not seen in New York since before the Giuliani administration, one would think Manhattan would elect a District Attorney who was tough on crime. Bragg’s proposals, however, are simply dangerous. In a policy memo leaked via Twitter, Bragg is ordering his office to de-prosecute certain offenses, refusing to punish violations of many criminal laws. These include resisting arrest, trespassing, fare evasion, marijuana possession, suspended license, and any traffic violation.
For offenses that are prosecuted, Bragg is asking his assistant DAs to allow offenders to be released on little or no bail or to pursue sentences with no jail time. “Non-incarceration is the outcome for every case, except those with charges of homicide or the death of a victim, a class-B violent felony in which a deadly weapon causes serious physical injury or felony sex offenses,” Bragg’s materials read.
Bragg’s policies mirror those in almost every other city that has been plagued with a Soros-funded prosecutor. However, New York boasts the largest police department in America, a competitive local news media, and a business class not seen in other progressive cities. Contrast this with Philadelphia, where Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw is quick to cite the tools used in a crime with statements like: “We know illegal crime guns are driving a lot of the violence that we are seeing,” but has very little to say about enforcement and the low morale amid her ranks.
Police officers feel that they have no support for the work they do under the current department leadership.
“They don’t want us to do shit,” a 24-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police told Broad + Liberty under the condition of anonymity. “If we do anything but respond to calls, we risk being fired by Outlaw or worse, locked up by Krasner for simply doing our job.”
Instead of empowering their considerable law enforcement resources, Mayor Kenney and Commissioner Outlaw continue to stress “community involvement” as a solution to record murders, giving over $155 million in tax dollars to unaccountable nonprofit groups aimed at “violence interruption.” Meanwhile, Council President Darrell Clarke released a statement that called for less accountability, saying that leaders and all entities of the criminal justice system must stop “finger-pointing” and remain focused on the safety of all citizens.
Currently, both New York and Pennsylvania drag behind other states of a similar size when it comes to the effective use of the bully pulpit.
They don’t want us to do shit.… If we do anything but respond to calls, we risk being fired by Outlaw or worse, locked up by Krasner for simply doing our job.
Consider that in Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel (D-Broward) was removed by Governor Ron DeSantis following his failures to properly respond to mass murders at Fort Lauderdale International Airport and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. DeSantis had previously removed elected State’s Attorney Aramis Ayala (D-Orlando) from prosecuting the gruesome murder of a woman after Ayala had stated her refusal to seek charges under the law due to her personal stance on the death penalty.
Pennsylvania still has no law allowing the state to remove local officials for misconduct or gross mismanagement, though a bill recently proposed by Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) is aimed at fixing the issue. Currently, elected officials can stay in office with no consequences aside from their election, unless they have been convicted of a crime.
This is how the two biggest cities on the East Coast have ended up with District Attorneys with dangerous criminal justice policies. Worse, with the introduction of outside PAC money, the system has been utterly corrupted.
Krasner was caught violating campaign finance laws in both of his elections that can simply pay a fine and take the office he was had admitted he had an unfair advantage in being elected to — whose budget is approved by a city council currently staffed by Kenyatta Johnson, who is under federal indictment, and Bobby Henon, who still occupies a council seat despite a multi-count federal felony conviction.
It’s no wonder, with this lack of accountability, that people are being murdered in our cities at record rates.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME