“Ask Dwight Eisenhower.”
That was JFK’s response when confronted with the epic failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba…Just kidding. What he actually said was, in part: “I am the responsible officer of the government.”
When it comes to crime in Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner is the responsible officer of government. Despite this self-evident fact, when Krasner was confronted about the most recent incident of carnage occurring in the lawless city he has created, he actually did say, “Ask Seth Williams.” This was a characteristic tactic of Krasner the defense lawyer: use distraction as a response to damning evidence.
“Ask Seth Williams.” He blames the police, the pandemic, and now, me.
I was an assistant district attorney from 1992 until 2003, and the elected district attorney from 2010 until 2017. I made mistakes in my personal life and accepted responsibility for them, but I am proud of the work I did and the partnerships I created with Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioners Ramsey and Ross. Together with the hard working and extremely dedicated public servants of the district attorney’s office, we made Philadelphia much safer than it had been in decades.
But since you asked, Larry, let’s talk about the damning evidence of your failures as DA. The conviction rate for possession of an illegal gun has dropped by almost 40%. The city had more murders in 2021 than in any year since…well, ever in recorded history. Theft is up. Carjackings are up over 200%.
There are shootings in Center City, Olde City, the Northeast, South Philly — everywhere. Meanwhile, Krasner says there is no connection between illegal gun possession and gun violence. He actually said that.
Despite his degree from Stanford, he doesn’t realize the last thing a felon does before shooting someone is carry the gun to the scene of the crime. He has even said publicly that prosecuting people for illegally possessing guns criminalizes poverty. No, Larry, it criminalizes people willing to shoot and kill other humans! Well, since he asked, homicides are again at an all-time high and convictions for illegal gun possessions are at an all-time low. Don’t take my word for it; check his own published stats.
In defense of his dismal failure to prosecute gun possession, Krasner claims that “science” shows prosecuting gun possession is not an effective way to reduce gun violence. Where was Larry Krasner in 2013 and 2014? In each of those years, the city recorded 45-year lows in homicides: 246 and 248 respectively. That was not an accident. It was the result of collaboration between the DA, the police commissioner and the mayor.
I spent years in prison, and I know warehousing humans is not the answer. What I do know is it is not the severity of punishment that changes behavior, it is the certainty. Under the current DA, there is almost zero accountability for carrying guns illegally.
When I ran in 2005 and 2009, a significant priority of mine was to organize the district attorney’s office geographically to mirror the Philadelphia Police Department. Crime occurs geographically. Assigning assistant district attorneys to neighborhoods so they could learn and understand the communities and the crime patterns made the office better. The statistics speak for themselves.
In 2010, the court system in Philadelphia was reorganized along geographic lines. The six geographic divisions of the police department were matched by six geographic bureaus in the district attorney’s office.
In 2011, Mayor Nutter convened a meeting of all the stakeholders in law enforcement to develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence. Utilizing the geographic alignment of the DA, the courts and police, my office, and Commissioner Charles Ramsey developed GunStat, a coordinated strategy to develop shared priorities. Those shared priorities included coordinated tracking and prosecution of all gun crimes, including gun possession.
Beginning in 2012, those priorities were reviewed at GunStat meetings attended by police, prosecutors, probation, parole and a variety of federal agencies. Gun possession cases received special attention, and the DA’s office succeeded in obtaining high bail, appropriate bail revocations, and prison sentences for violent offenders. The results were dramatic: more violent criminals off the streets and less violence.
Finally, in 2013, we launched “Focused Deterrence” — a logical progression from GunStat. Where GunStat was a strategy focused on law enforcement, Focused Deterrence was a coordinated strategy between law enforcement, the community and social service agencies. We directly engaged the most at-risk members of the community in South Philadelphia. Again, the results were dramatic. We saved lives, put young men in jobs instead of jail, and created a safer community by dramatically reducing gun violence.
Larry Krasner was sworn in in 2018. He ended geographic prosecution, he ended GunStat and he ended Focused Deterrence. He fired or drove from office dozens of experienced prosecutors who had made these strategies a success.
Krasner will claim otherwise. He will assert he hires the best and brightest and that he is executing Focused Deterrence and GunStat. To be clear: even the best and the brightest cannot succeed without leadership. And he is not executing these strategies: ask anyone involved in law enforcement, including his own employees. He pays lip service to these strategies in name only. An office with a GunStat program would not have a 40% conviction rate for gun crimes, and a city effectively executing Focused Deterrence would not have 562 murders.
The District Attorney can have an impact on gun violence if he works with the police and the mayor to implement evidence-based strategies. Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer hired former Philly assistant district attorneys to do just that, and reduced homicides and fatal shootings by working with Chester Mayor Kirkland and Police Commissioner Gretzky.
I love Philadelphia, and pray everyday for Krasner’s improvement and success. As of this writing, Krasner has been the DA for 1,514 days. So far, he has ended evidence-based strategies and has not taken a single step to make our city safer. Every minute he spends saying “Ask Seth Williams” is one less minute he is focused on doing his job. He should make a decision to either lead, follow, or please get out of the way.
Seth Williams is formerly the district attorney for Philadelphia, and was the first African-American elected as a district attorney anywhere in the commonwealth.