On the vital public safety concerns impacting greater Philadelphia, the polarized nature of our political leadership has created an environment with little accountability. This was made abundantly clear over a weekend where, separate from the ten violent carjackings occurring in Philadelphia, three separate neighborhoods were targeted by illegal car meetups that resulted in the fatal shooting of a suspect by a state trooper. The deceased, Anthony Allegrini Jr., was one of the 300 people who dangerously shut down I-95 in Penn’s Landing. The now-deceased eighteen-year-old suspect, who traveled from suburban Glen Mills in his modified Audi to participate in these events, has ignited a discussion on how Philadelphia’s “woke” law enforcement policies have made the city a destination for criminality.

Whether it’s exotic car “sideshows,” unsafe vehicles on our roads, illegal ATVs and dirt bikes, or a steady increase in crimes like drug use, retail theft, or prostitution, the story is the same: a steady decrease in accountability through enforcement and prosecution has led to a declining quality-of-life in cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. While this decline in public safety can be correlated to the election of progressive prosecutors and mayors who pivoted to the left in response to the 2020 George Floyd riots, Philadelphia’s Democratic voters voiced a resounding rebuke of progressive politics by choosing Cherelle Parker as their candidate over the more radical Helen Gym.

Regardless of how the results of the primary election may impact the tone of municipal government, coverage of the I-95 shooting by Philadelphia’s two largest outlets, the Inquirer and WPVI television, raises questions as to greater concerns of personal responsibility and a culture of compliance in society today. In coverage highlighting statements by the suspect’s girlfriend and others portraying him as an “angel,” or in highlighting his graduation photos over documents relating to his arrest earlier this year for reckless driving, the media seems to be pivoting toward the trooper’s decision to use deadly force instead of emphasizing that Allegrini put himself in this deadly position when he participated in an illegal shutdown of an interstate highway, then failed to comply with troopers’ orders while operating his luxury sports sedan.

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This coverage is not novel, as a visceral response has been focused on law enforcement following the deaths of suspects who were killed during the commission of crimes. However, as crime continues to rise, one wonders when leaders will recognize the problem and place an emphasis on personal responsibility.

As a former law enforcement officer who has spent the last two decades leading and assessing organizational compliance, I can say that a compliance culture at the political and personal level is crucial to ensure safety, integrity, and ethical behavior in society. However, the recent political trend of abandoning cultural norms has mere mention of “compliance” evoking a negative emotional response in the Democratic voting base that dominates most of America’s urban and suburban voters. To overcome this our leaders have to define a strong compliance culture by example, which requires a great deal of intestinal fortitude.

Time and again, we witness our leaders going through the motions of making public statements condemning an illicit activity or declaring a never-ending “investigation” to get to the bottom of it, but little is ultimately done to stop it. This is the case with the illegal street takeovers from ATVs and modified street racers that have plagued our streets for nearly eight years. A culture of compliance comes from the public holding leaders accountable for changing the underlying issues contributing to it, despite the political risks associated with them. As they apply to these issues, that may mead a change in policy positions that govern the “no-stop/no-chase” policies of the Philadelphia Police, the District Attorney’s lax charging and prosecution policies, unpopular policies toward civil forfeiture (i.e. seizing these illegally operated vehicles), and a repeal or amendment to the city’s controversial “driving equality” law

While compliance is often used as a catch-all term, society cannot function effectively without assuring regulatory compliance in assuring that people adhere to the law. When progressive DAs, mayors, or councilmembers abandon their duty to enforce certain laws or regulations they don’t agree with, there are no methods to assure compliance with the norms of human behavior. 

This creates two problems: There are no incentives for the law-abiding to support a government that doesn’t hold those in non-compliance accountable, while those in a cycle of minor criminality are emboldened to graduate to more serious crimes.

If our leaders don’t return to an incentive structure that speaks for those who pay their taxes and play by the rules, our society will predictably become less and less safe. 

Did the 300+ participants in this illicit gathering pick Philadelphia because of its policies and two-plus year track record of not stopping these vehicular offenses? When confronted by state troopers, who have a zero-tolerance policy, did Allegrini think he could get away with not obeying their orders to stop and exit the vehicle?

The cost of non-compliance is real and significant. A culture of responsibility is ultimately driven by human behavior, and it can be easy for people to get caught in cycles of habitual and destructive behavior when they do not fear legal or societal consequences In a professional setting, I have been able to reduce the risk of misconduct and foster genuine compliance and more positive relationships with enforcement/compliance professionals by adopting strong cultures of compliance that do not waiver based on political trends.

In Philadelphia, when laws are made or enforced based on personal perceptions and political beliefs as opposed to statistical analysis or unbiased safety studies, trust in government agencies or its leaders is eroded. In contrast, a culture of compliance can be established when appointed or elected officials lead the way by expressing their commitment to laws applied equally to all — including themselves

It sounds simple enough, but creating this compliant culture can be difficult when double-standards are set, which is why Philadelphia’s leaders are in a catch-22 in regard to vehicle enforcement. When vehicle safety code enforcement is changed in the name of racial equity (despite studies nullifying the legislation’s underlying concerns), or when Mayor Kenney states that “there is little he can do” when his streets are overrun by illegal ATVs and dirt bikes, they have created a culture of non-compliance that attracts law breakers from outside the city. This is also seen in the explosion of open-air opioid abuse and squalor in places like Kensington, fueled by a steady influx of suburban drug abusers pouring into Philadelphia following DA Larry Krasner’s public policy statement of “not criminalizing addiction” by prosecuting drug possession cases.

In the corporate sector, this is evidenced by instances of corporate wrongdoing to include Nike and Volkswagen, in where the bottom line of profit versus loss has forced them to re-adjust deeply entrenched organizational behaviors. Understanding human behavior and its impact on compliance is an integral part of creating a more constructive culture of personal responsibility and compliance, as penalties alone are not enough to deter wrongdoing. To truly change a societal approach to compliance, we need to consider political, social, and cultural influences on behavior, such as groupthink, media portrayal, and social norms.

To “hit the reset button” and get society back on the right path, we need leaders who are strong enough to risk political backlash and call out negative behaviors that lead to negative consequences. Perpetrators are not victims, and those enforcing the law are not perpetrators.

If our leaders don’t return to an incentive structure that speaks for those who pay their taxes and play by the rules, our society will predictably become less and less safe. 

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

5 thoughts on “Ben Mannes: Can cities rebound from lawlessness to cultures of responsibility and compliance?”

  1. You can blame the politicians for these criminal activities but then again the voters put them in office. these cities have been doomed for years. not gonna get any better.

    1. Jimnie sums it up rather well. If voters insist on voting for politicians that promote this lawlessness through their actions/inaction there will be no change.

  2. when the current mayor pursues taliban like tactics and “steals” the frank l. rizzo statue that people contributed for its building and placement (like me) in the middle of the night without ANY due process, i think that says it all about the state of affairs in the great city of philadelphia. these leftist must be exposed and purged just like the L&I dept demands for vermin infestation.

  3. I love this piece. My big concern is whether our next mayor is “strong enough to risk political backlash and call out negative behaviors that lead to negative consequences. Perpetrators are not victims, and those enforcing the law are not perpetrators.”

  4. Not sure how we’ll escape “lawlessness” when one of our two major parties openly defends leaders who are caught red handed stealing and hiding nuclear secrets and illegally obstructing investigations. When that same party talks about pardoning violent thugs who tased and beat a cop to death while looting our nation’s capitol in a desperate attempt to illegally overturn an election that didn’t go their way.

    One set of laws for the political elite and another for the commoners may work in banana republics but it doesn’t go over too well in this country.

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