Is Larry Krasner an effective prosecutor? His lawyers seem to think so. In a legal filing this week seeking to block an impeachment inquiry by the State Legislature, Krasner’s lawyers claim he is doing a good job.
“Truth be told, the DAO under District Attorney Krasner has been very effective in prosecuting crime.”
They go on: “… this … is not about whether one agrees or disagrees with District Attorney Krasner’s policies, effective as they are…”)
Krasner and his lawyers cite high conviction rates and longer prison sentences for gun possession in order to justify this claim of effectiveness. Progressive icon Larry Krasner, citing conviction rates and jail time to defend his record as a prosecutor! It’s a bit rich. Treating the administration of justice like a batting average has long been frowned upon in progressive circles, including by Krasner himself. His campaign website, which is still active, has a “platform” section under the heading of “Real Change in the DAs Office.” As a candidate, Krasner promised voters he would not rely on conviction rates and prison sentences as a measurement of his success.
“For far too long the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has been driven by a win-at-any-cost culture that prioritizes high conviction rates and harsh sentencing over more effective approaches that are proven to reduce crime. Both Krasner’s official office website and his campaign website decry prison sentences and instead advertise as a much different measurement of success; the thousands of years of prison time he has avoided through unspecified progressive policies.
Hyper-hypocrisy aside, it is clear that Krasner and his lawyers need to get out of the rarefied air of the progressive cocktail circuit. We have all heard the line about “lies, damn lies and statistics.” Whoever actually uttered that line must have foreseen the likes of Larry Krasner.
READ MORE — R. Seth Williams: Three steps to make illegal guns like Kryptonite
In their legal filing, Krasner and his lawyers cherry-picked two dubious statistics in an attempt to defend him from legislative scrutiny. First, they claim a 90 percent conviction rate for homicide which “compares favorably with his predecessors” and, second, a “higher” average prison sentence for illegal gun possession.
Put aside for a moment the impotence of this defense and contemplate instead whether — even if true — that these statistics have any probative value in evaluating the work of the city’s top law enforcement officer. Anyone who spent more than five minutes in a criminal courtroom in Philadelphia knows the answer intuitively. These two statistics standing alone are utterly meaningless.
We can make a few safe bets about what the legislature would find if they are permitted to look at the reality behind these numbers. First, we know from public records that Krasner approves fewer charges against fewer defendants for everything from retail theft to murder. This is not one of his “more effective policies” but instead like most things Krasner it results from a combination of ideology and incompetence.
In 2014, while I was DA, our office charged 43,228 criminal cases. By 2021, under Krasner, the number of cases charged annually had fallen by 47 percent, to only 22,867. Have the criminals in Philadelphia committed 47 percent fewer crimes since Krasner was sworn in? Or has Krasner decided to look the other way for most crimes?
Let’s look at Larry’s newly adopted metric, conviction rates. In 2014, the DA’s office obtained convictions in 50.7 percent of the 43,228 cases that were charged. Under Krasner the overall conviction rate for a much smaller pool of criminal defendants (less than half) has fallen to an abysmal 22.6 percent. In a city of 1.6 million with 562 murders last year, volume matters. The baseball player who has two at bats and gets one hit is batting .500 but he is not headed to the Hall of Fame. Neither, thank God, is Krasner.
Let’s take a quick look at the performance of the @philadao und @DA_LarryKrasner over the last few years.— Over Salted Pretzel (@OverSaltPretzel) September 10, 2022
All (non-summary) cases:
~ 65% increase in rate of withdrawn cases
~ 15% decline in rate of guilty pleas
~ 75% decline in rate of guilty convictions pic.twitter.com/VG61gKnEuc
In addition to approving fewer charges and losing more cases we know that Krasner also voluntarily withdraws more charges than any of his predecessors. Again, this withdrawal rate is not based on more effective policies but once again a combination of incompetence and ideology. His prosecutors are often either unprepared or unwilling to proceed in court and instead withdraw charges without any valid justification. Those prosecutors that are committed to justice and work hard are drowning beneath unsustainable caseloads left behind by the almost 140 prosecutors that Krasner drove out of the office in a single year.
Finally, and most importantly as it relates to statistics, Krasner’s office pleads most cases out to lesser offenses and then counts them as “convictions”. So, for instance his 90 percent conviction rate for people charged with murder includes plea agreements where he gave away the store. His prison time for “illegal gun possession” includes cases where the more serious charge — say aggravated assault by shooting — was withdrawn and the defendant was allowed to plead to the gun possession only. His sentencing for true gun possession cases (where that is the lead and most serious charge) is probably closer to 95 percent probation.
He counts as a “prison sentence” time spent in jail prior to making bail and cases where the defendant was in custody on a probation detainer for a previous crime and then pleads to “time served” for a new crime. We know from his own data that when he doesn’t withdraw or plead a gun possession case out before trial his office gets convictions in less than half of the cases. This is the kind of detail Krasner and his lawyers are trying to avoid because they know or should know that his numbers are junk and their claim of effectiveness is, in the face of reality, deplorable.
Anyone who really wants to measure Krasner’s effectiveness should avoid his phony stats and consider instead what role he has played in protecting the public. The National District Attorneys’ Association (NDAA) is an organization that offers training and other resources to assist prosecutors nationwide in developing policies to provide effective prosecution and in the prosecutors core mission “protecting the safety of local communities”. The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) is another national organization that promotes best practices aimed at pursuing justice, reducing crime and protecting the public. When I was District Attorney, Philadelphia’s community-based prosecution model received an award from APA and was the subject of a publication for jurisdictions around the country to replicate our transformation and effective geographic evidenced based strategies. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association (PDAA) plays a similar role to these national organizations at the state level.
I had the honor of serving as Vice President of both the APA and PDAA. When Krasner’s campaign website refers to “more effective approaches that are proven to reduce crime” as an alternative to policies focused on conviction rates and incarceration, these are precisely the types of strategies promoted by the APA and others. When I was the DA, we participated in these associations as students and teachers and shared our experiences with “more effective approaches” like Focused Deterrence, Gun Stat and diversionary programs like Dawn Court. These strategies worked. In 2013 and 2014 when both strategies were fully operational the city saw its lowest murder count in 45 years.
When he was elected DA, Krasner withdrew from the state DA Association because he disagrees with their historic role in lobbying for crime legislation, which he labels as regressive and harsh. In doing so he threw the baby out with the bathwater, depriving his employees of access to valuable training — and depriving other jurisdictions of Philadelphia’s experience and innovation. Krasner also ended Focused Deterrence, Gun Stat and de-emphasized Dawn Court. As evidenced by the record-breaking levels of murder, carjacking, shootings and general lawlessness in Philadelphia, Krasner has yet to implement a single “effective program” to replace the ones he canceled.
These facts and statistics somehow didn’t make it into Krasner’s recent legal filing except by implication when the papers claim, erroneously, that “crimes rates are up throughout the nation”. This line suggests that massive spikes in violent crime are happening everywhere — but they aren’t. In ignoring the reality of the carnage and mayhem on the streets of our city, Krasner makes explicit his total abandonment of any responsibility he has for protecting the safety of the public. That core function is apparently not part of the progressive agenda.
Krasner’s petition was filed on September 2, the day before the start of the Labor Day weekend. Over that “holiday” weekend, ten Philadelphians were murdered. The following weekend there were multiple additional murders including the shooting death of a 41-year-old woman working for the city Department of Recreation. Tiffany Fletcher was out in front of the Mill Creek Recreation Center in West Philly sweeping the sidewalk at 1:30 in the afternoon when she was cut down by a hail of bullets.
That senseless act of violence and cowardice destroyed a family and hurt myself and other native Philadelphians in a deeply personal way. In addition to teaching in Philadelphia Public Schools for 32 years, my father, Rufus Williams worked for the Department of Recreation every night from 6-10 p.m. through four decades. He was a Fairmount Park Day Camp Director from the 1950’s until 1984 and from the day it opened in 1971 until he retired in 1985 my father worked at the Cobbs Creek Rec center, also in West Philly. I can still see him sitting out front on warm summer evenings greeting young men and women coming to play basketball, swim, play ping-pong, chess or just hang out. The playground directly across from my boyhood home where he served as playground leader has been named for him and has a memorial stone and plaque in his honor. I know personally the value and role to a community that recreation center staff fulfill.
Where [Krasner] should lead, he obstructs and where he should speak truth to power, he lies. Where there was progress, he has left a wasteland littered with prevarication and death.
One wonders if Krasner and his highbrow lawyers recognize the obscenity of proclaiming his effectiveness in a city where on September afternoons innocent women can’t sweep the sidewalk of a children’s playground without being shot and killed. Does Krasner’s 90 percent conviction rate in murder cases give comfort to the mothers who feel physically ill and shake with fear when someone knocks on their door when their child is late coming home? Does it reassure the elderly woman who is afraid to walk to the grocery store or the young man who stares at the ground as he traverses his neighborhood to avoid the random eye contact that could escalate and end in his paralysis or death? How about the soul of a city that endured the most murders in its history last year and is on pace to set a new record this year? Krasner and his lawyers are either ignorant or apathetic about the suffering of real people.
The lawyers and the courts will sort out the dispute between Krasner and the legislature but there should be no dispute about whether or not he is an effective District Attorney. He has destroyed any semblance of effectiveness in the Philadelphia criminal justice system. Where he should lead, he obstructs and where he should speak truth to power, he lies. Where there was progress, he has left a wasteland littered with prevarication and death.
In their legal filing Krasner’s lawyers embrace the world view that Krasner personifies when he preens before the press and declare the righteousness of his policies and performance;
“Philadelphia is comprised primarily of people of color, 44% are black, 16% are Latino and 8% are Asian. District Attorney Krasner is therefore the constitutionally elected district attorney of a majority-minority city.”
This line has an obvious political purpose, but it demonstrates once again the hubris of the elite progressives who live in Krasnerland, in the high-rise law firms and guarded condominiums. In highlighting Philadelphia’s status as a majority-minority city, Larry’s lawyers from prominent law firms in D.C. and Philadelphia ignore the more important “majority-minority” statistic; 90 percent of the homicide victims are black and brown and 80 percent are black men killed by other black men.
Crime and violence are lacerating the psyches of an entire generation of black and brown Philadelphians but Krasner and his lawyers want you to know that it is OK because black people voted for Larry. Larry knows what is best for them. Thou shalt not question him lest ye be a white, racist, Republican. The murder and mayhem continue and the black and brown people suffer but in the law firms and salons of D.C. and Philadelphia, Larry is righteous and effective. And so it goes.
Finally, a word to twitter trolls who probably did not read this far but will comment nonetheless. I resigned from office; I went to prison. I was charged with a litany of crimes which you will no doubt recount here. Unlike you and Larry, I do not claim moral superiority. I am fallen and contrite but I am also painfully conscious of a reality to which you are either indifferent or unaware.
The majority of poor black and brown citizens in the city live in constant fear of crime and violence. It is possible that my consciousness is heightened by my varied experiences as a prosecutor, a crime victim, a federal inmate, and a returning citizen but I hope that even absent those experiences I would have the courage to speak out. Any human with a heart and brain should be outraged by the violence in our city.
I am heartbroken, outraged and angry. Not because of my own experiences but because of what those experiences have taught me about what is possible: it does not have to be this way. There are effective policies that can result in a reduction in crime and violence. But Larry would rather argue than act. He would rather pontificate than prosecute. And so, as a black man who knows better, I must speak up. And if the price of my speaking is your ridicule and hatred then that it is a price, I am willing to pay. If it saves one life or gives hope to one soul then it is worth whatever snark you can muster. And now, you may begin.
R. Seth Williams is the former district attorney for Philadelphia, and was the first African American elected as a district attorney anywhere in the commonwealth. Follow him on Twitter at @newsethwilliams.