Many cities that backed the “defund the police” movement are caught between the harsh realities of high crime and understaffed public safety agencies, while placed in the precarious position of serving a political base with an irrational hatred of law enforcement.
This is the position Philadelphia’s political leaders found themselves in when dedicating unprecedented funding behind “gun violence prevention,” splitting law enforcement funding with grants to a myriad of unaccountable nonprofit groups. With city elections around the corner, Philadelphia’s grim prominence as the nation’s most violent major city may be finally breaking down the solidarity between District Attorney Larry Krasner and the city’s political leaders.
Signs of this began with four state Democrats who crossed the aisle to investigate Krasner, which was the first step toward his being impeached in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. However, despite regular reports of shocking crimes and revelations of murders that would have been prevented had Krasner’s progressive bail and lax charging policies not been applied, it appears that Krasner’s latest scandal involving misappropriation of public victim funds may be the straw that finally broke city council’s back.
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In October, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee held a meeting to discuss the vote for House Resolution 239, directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to investigate how the Philadelphia district attorney office spends victim funds on victims of crime, as well as asking the state auditor general to perform a forensic audit on how the DA’s office spent funds for the Gun Violence Task Force and “address any improprieties, negligence or misuse of funds.”
While House Democrats rejected the resolution as it would expand an already pressing impeachment process, the issue resonated within Philadelphia City Hall when crime victims and witnesses spoke out about not being relocated months and even years after being impacted by horrific crimes.
On Nov. 22, Philadelphia City Council members expressed their frustration as they tried to figure out what happened to the $500,000 they appropriated for crime victim relocation. This happened amid testimony from constituents like Diamond Wilson, who was shot in the face more than a year ago but has been forced to remain in the neighborhood where the shooting happened despite numerous pleas for help. “I am not properly relocated or protected. I am now living at a lesser capacity than before the assault,” said Wilson during a hearing with the Joint Committees on Public Safety and the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. “I can’t tell you how many times this past year me and my family have been intimidated by my neighbors.”
A year ago, Councilmember David Oh appropriated the $500,000 to help protect and, when necessary, relocate crime victims. Now, he says that aid has not been delivered. Oh claims Council allocated the funds for the Managing Director’s Office to distribute the money to community groups that work with victims, but Shondell Revell of the Office of Violence Prevention said “to their understanding,” some of the money was sent to the District Attorney’s Office while some remained in the Managing Director’s Office. The vagary in Revell’s response resulted in an ultimatum from both Oh and Councilmember Curtis Jones, who demanded that she “need to give us the answer,” said Oh, and “Call whoever you need to call. Get that answer now,” said Jones.
While Revell was not able to give an answer to Oh and Jones in that Nov. 22 hearing, the fact that they noted these victim funds went to the District Attorney’s office seemed to coincide with the allegations brought by the state legislature one month before. In Sept. 2021, Krasner himself touted “increases in his office’s witness relocation efforts, praising City Council’s continued funding of this critically important program, while asking for increased funding needed to protect witnesses, co-victims, and survivors, while improving case outcomes.” Knowing that these funds were allocated less than two months after Krasner’s presser, where are they now, and why are they not getting to victims like Diamond Wilson?
Legally, if the Managing Director or Krasner’s office spent victim funds allocated for victims and/or witnesses on anything else — to include salaries or office expenses, it constitutes a misappropriation of public victim funds.
A symptom of a greater problem
After Philadelphia’s crime rate reached record highs in 2020 and 2021, the political leadership in both the state and city were faced with a quandary. After succumbing to “defund the police” arguments that demonized law enforcement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, state and local Democrats were facing the strong need to do an “about face” and support the traditional policing and prosecution that have proved successful in reducing crime. Instead of doing this, both state and city politicians started investing hundreds of millions in public victim funds to unaccountable “gun violence reduction” strategies.
Knowing that these funds were allocated less than two months after Krasner’s presser, where are they now, and why are they not getting to victims like Diamond Wilson?
These strategies largely relied on no-bid grants nonprofit “violence interrupters,” without any of the fiscal governance or accountability standards that exist for government agencies or approved contractors. Krasner’s office reportedly gave $250,000 in such victim funds just two weeks ago in grants to nonprofits that were outside the scope of Inspector General oversight. In coverage from Nov. 12, 2022, the DA’s office says it’s disbursed more than $1 million to more than 45 community organizations over the life of the office’s Violence Prevention Initiative program.
According to Krasner, grant selection is a “complicated process” in which the Philadelphia Foundation, a separate nonprofit community foundation, checks applications and provides recommendations based on “various criteria.” These public funds are turned over to nonprofits who dole out grants to other nonprofits without the governance and oversight of an established procurement or contracting criteria. Worse, these grants have no key performance indicators or success criteria to hold them to the accomplishment of a goal.
Despite record funding for “gun violence prevention” in 2021, crime continues at a pace that shows over 100 more homicides per year more than before the “hands-off” law enforcement policies of Krasner and appointees like Commissioner Outlaw were implemented. Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Kenney continues to “double down” on this unaccountable funding, even though it is clear that the appropriation of these funds is a murky proposition, at best.
Councilmember Oh and Jones were right to question the appropriation of victim funds, and a state investigation into the possible misappropriation of funds at a municipal level is needed.
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