Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Monday that in many instances in which his office has failed to win cases with gun charges, those failures are largely attributable to a ruined relationship between police and the public. Krasner specifically blamed tactics like “stop-and-frisk” policing.
“This office has successfully in the past brought charges against nine different people who were involved in — I believe a total of 59 shootings. We had no witnesses,” Krasner said. “This is part of what happens when you break the relationship between police and community by things like massive, illegal ‘stop and frisk.’ We have no witnesses.
“So here we have fifteen fired cartridge casings, but we don’t have the forensics in the City of Philadelphia to properly analyze them in ways that could actually identify who was involved in the shooting,” he continued, referencing a recent crime.
Krasner’s office did not respond to questions such as providing a list of the necessary forensic tools with which he would like to see the Philadelphia Police Department equipped. Broad + Liberty also asked for — but was not provided — a list of the nine defendants he referred to, as well as a copy of any study that would look beyond anecdotes to analyze why witness cooperation is down.
Requests for comment to the Philadelphia Police Department were also not returned.
The police department implemented a pilot program last year to test a reduction in the use of stop-and-frisk contacts.
Still, others say Krasner’s comments are just a continued dodge by the district attorney.
“It’s the same old tune from DA Krasner: someone else is always to blame for his failed social experiment and leadership,” said John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5.
“Krasner’s own hires, 261 lawyers, have quit the DA’s office in his first term. Those same lawyers say the office is in disarray and chaos and now he wants to demonize rank-and-file police officers for his failures. The public and our dedicated officers deserve better. Give us a break, stop making excuses, do your job and hold criminals and violent offenders accountable in this city.”
McNesby’s numbers on the lawyers who have quit the office come from a recent Philadelphia Inquirer report which showed a massive exodus of prosecutorial talent.
“About 70 of those recruits [from 2018] have already left, joining an exodus that has included both veteran prosecutors and young idealists,” the report said. In all, the loss of 261 attorneys during Krasner’s first term has thrown the office — already beset by conflict with the police and judiciary, and mired in pandemic-related backlogs — into what some describe as a state of chaos.”
Krasner has been under more scrutiny after the city rocketed past its previous record of 500 homicides in one year, ending 2021 with 562 murders. The political pressure became more inflamed when Krasner said, “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence.”
That remark forced Krasner to walk back his words more than once, and ignited a backlash from former Mayor Michael Nutter. The increased murder rate has continued in the city this year, with nineteen homicides already in 2022.
Krasner has been called for better forensic technologies in recent weeks, but these calls also have not listed the exact tools he would hope to see purchased and used within the police department.
“In order to turn the tide on the wave of gun violence communities across the country are experiencing, we must stop doing things that have never worked and start innovating, including by relying on forensic science and technology to solve more cases,” he wrote in his November email newsletter, “Justice Journal.”
“I will continue to call on city government and our partners in law enforcement to invest the tens of millions of dollars needed for modern technologies that could revolutionize our ability to solve more cases and get more shooters off the streets faster,” he wrote earlier this month.
When a persistent Krasner critic tweeted video of Krasner blaming stop-and-frisk for some failed prosecutions, many former lawyers in the district attorney’s office — most of whom did not work there at the same time as Krasner — chimed in.
“Now he wants DNA off of spent shell casings….excuses, finger pointing and….and….and…” tweeted former district attorney Seth Williams.
“Witnesses are afraid because they know you won’t protect them and they will be hunted down because of you,” tweeted Mark Fu, a retired Philadelphia police sergeant.
“What forensics is Larry the genius talking about? Ummm…you Can’t get DNA off of fired cartridge casings (FCCs),” said Lorraine Donnelly, who was an assistant district attorney under different leadership. “What steps is he taking to get witnesses to court or heal the ‘fractured relationships with police and the community.’ None.”
Obtaining DNA or fingerprints from the spent shell casings left at a shooting scene is still a very murky science, which could ultimately make it unreliable in court.
A 2019 report by the Trace, a nonprofit journalism outlet dedicated to gun reporting, detailed a new forensics method to obtain DNA and fingerprints off spent shell casings, but that technology is still in its infancy.
The technology appears to have been used for the first time in a conviction in the United States just last month.
When funding from city council hasn’t been adequate, the police department has frequently turned to the Philadelphia Police Foundation, a non-profit that raises money from the community to pay for such expenses.
For example, the foundation’s website says it has paid for “extensive training” for eight new firearms examiners, forensic scientists who perform “operability tests on all recovered firearms, microscopic comparisons of cartridge cases to determine if items have been fired from the same weapon, serial number restorations on obliterated evidence, and other examinations required for investigations and court.”
The foundation, however, has seen a drop off in community support after the #defundthepolice movement emerged in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis in 2020.
For example, Temple University publicly withdrew its support for the foundation in June 2020.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com.