There has “absolutely been an uptick in crime” in recent years, said Chris Eiserman, President of the Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 27, during the Pennsylvania House Republican Policy Committee’s hearing on public safety and keeping our communities safe.
The hearing was hosted by state Rep. Craig Williams (R-Delaware County) and overseen by Policy Committee Chairman Rep. Josh Kail (R-Beaver County) last week in Concord Township.
Eiserman was one of five panelists to testify on a range of issues including trauma-informed approaches to decreasing the school-to-prison pipeline, addressing recidivism in the criminal justice system, prosecuting crimes, and the retention and hiring of police officers.
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Asserting that there has been an uptick in crime, Eiserman suggested that the lack of prosecution of criminal cases in Philadelphia has become an issue for Delaware County, as criminals from Philadelphia cross into Delaware County with the impression that they won’t be prosecuted for their crimes.
“Every day you’re seeing people come in from Philadelphia and destroy the quality of life in Delaware County because they are getting away with it in Philadelphia and they are thinking they can get away with the same thing here, and they can’t,” said Eiserman, while noting that the District Attorney’s Office in Delaware County is willing to prosecute criminal cases.
Despite this, crime from Philadelphia is still affecting the quality of life in Delaware County. The panelists referenced a gang of about 40–80 ATV and motorbike riders reported to routinely surround cars, rob drivers, and throw bricks through their car windows, only to then drive off with impunity in Philadelphia. This gang of street racers has since come into Upper Darby Township in the 69th Street area — there have also been reports in recent years of ATV gangs disrupting traffic in Radnor Township.
“There is a direct correlation between an increasing violent community and a lack of prosecuting crime,” Rep. Williams said. “We have got that going on in our neighboring city [of Philadelphia] where last year there were well over 500 homicides and a reluctance to prosecute prior convicted felons in possession of guns.”
Eiserman’s concerns about rising crime in the suburbs were echoed by his fellow panelists with backgrounds in law enforcement — Chief John Egan, Chief of Police of the Bethel Township Police Department, and Bob McCarron, President of the Chester County Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 11.
McCarron expressed frustration with the state of crime and policing in the Greater Philadelphia region, stating the “only people being held accountable today are the police. Nobody is holding criminals accountable.” The panelists expressed frustration at policies enacted by district attorneys and local municipalities across the commonwealth that are “tying the hands of police officers” and demoralizing both experienced and young officers alike who feel unable to do their job to the fullest extent.
McCarron described a “perception problem” with policing as a profession, which has departments struggling to replace outgoing experienced officers with qualified younger officers. Egan cited low numbers of candidates entering the police academy, leading to a smaller pool of graduates for police departments to choose from. The panelists suggested Pennsylvania take a look at the incentives Florida is offering police officers, as local departments have been losing officers to better opportunities in Florida that are offering competitive pay and benefits.
Egan also stressed the importance of getting candidates into the police academy in the first place, suggesting the police academy ought to be made free for those who complete it. Egan also highlighted the costs associated with attending the academy that could put a financial strain on candidates, including having to supply their own uniforms and materials.
There is a direct correlation between an increasing violent community and a lack of prosecuting crime.
In addition to the panelists suggesting better financial incentives to increase recruitment, they underscored the need for the news media to highlight more of the positives when it comes to local policing, and said politicians need to stand up and defend police officers. McCarron emphasized the importance of reminding the youth that law enforcement is a noble profession, and to not let a few bad actors detract from the overall good that police officers do for their communities.
The second panel slated to speak consisted of two testifiers with expertise in issues pertaining to recidivism and the juvenile justice system — Professor Gregg Volz, Director of Youth Courts at Harcum College, and Liam Power, Chair of the Education Task Force at the Pennsylvania Office of Advocacy and Reform.
The panelists spoke about providing “off ramps” for juveniles caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. They cited the amount of resources the system currently places at the end of the pipeline through incarceration, and the importance of providing trauma-informed care when juveniles first enter the system in an effort to reduce the likelihood of future crime and incarceration.
Additionally, the panelists suggested a holistic approach to trauma-informed care, stressing the importance of training those who work in the justice system, hospitals, and schools on how trauma leads to criminal actions, addiction, and antisocial behaviors. Power stressed the importance of building trust over time with those affected by trauma, referencing trust as the “underpinning of the entire process” of trauma-informed care.
Volz spoke on the issue of youth courts, which he claims help keep juveniles out of the adult justice system and build trust and conflict resolution skills that students won’t learn in other classes by allowing them to impart meaningful solutions and hold students accountable for their actions in a compassionate way. Rep. Craig Williams cited concerns about maintaining student anonymity in this process, which has stifled the implementation of youth courts in some Delaware County school districts.
Rep. Josh Kail concluded the hearing by reiterating the need for a holistic approach to public safety in the midst of what he described as a devastating nationwide “crime epidemic,” stating that “from restorative justice to supporting law enforcement and assisting those with substance abuse and mental health issues, we must examine all the ways our communities can be safer.”
Olivia DeMarco is an Editorial Associate with Broad + Liberty. She previously served as a legislative aide in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Temple University.