On Friday, May 3rd, the House Judiciary Committee came to Philadelphia to address the city’s grim crime statistics and how District Attorney Larry Krasner’s progressive policies may have contributed to it. 

The hearing was led by Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) with questioning from members on both sides of the aisle. The Philadelphia field hearing was the latest of four such hearings focused on violent crime in the cities with some of the most noteworthy crime rates, to include Chicago and Washington, DC.

Like everything in Congress, the hearing was divided along partisan lines. This was evident by the witness list, as Republican members invited testimony from veteran litigator George Bochetto, Protect our Police PAC founder Nick Gerace, and the family members of the slain officers, Sgt. James O’Connor and Temple University Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald. Democratic members invited Adam Garber, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a gun-control centered group and Dr. Ruth Abaya, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who promoted community violence intervention programs to help victims escape cycles of violence in lieu of “mass incarceration”.

The committee sought to attack the Philadelphia’s ranking of having the highest crime rate of America’s large (over 1M in population) cities from two politically distinct angles. Republicans sought first-hand witness testimony from a former Philadelphia Police Officer, the Special Counsel appointed by the state house to impeach Krasner, and the family members of police officers killed in the line of duty on how Krasner’s policies treat repeat criminals with kid gloves and allow them to wreak havoc on Philadelphia streets.

“These criminals, they know,” testified Gerace, a retired Philadelphia police officer. “They tell these cops to their face, ‘Uncle Larry‘s gonna let me out in a couple of hours,’ and that’s exactly what happens.” Gerace attacked Krasner for prosecuting officers like former police inspector Joseph Bologna for alleged misconduct, and argued that the DA’s hostility toward law enforcement had contributed to higher crime. 

“Police officers are afraid to do their job because Krasner is looking to hang every one of them,” he said.

This was seconded by Bochetto, the attorney who was appointed following a state house vote to impeach Krasner over his alleged failure to prosecute minor crimes. Following the election of a Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania legislature, the impeachment was tabled and according to Bochetto’s testimony “is in political mothballs”. Bochetto testified that Krasner’s “philosophy is facilitating lawlessness on the street.” The former special prosecutor said the District Attorney represents an “unelected legislature” because he unilaterally decided to stop enforcing prostitution, drug possession, theft, and violation of the uniform firearm act (VUFA) cases, giving criminals confidence to wreak havoc on the city. Bochetto said Krasner’s legal approach has crushed the morale for law enforcement officers in Philadelphia, “who fear being prosecuted more than the criminals”.

Then came the first-hand testimony from the family of police officers murdered in the line of duty. “If our district attorney, prosecutors, and judges did their jobs, maybe he’d still be here today,” Sgt. James O’Connor’s widow, Terri testified when detailing how the man who shot and killed her husband in 2020 had been recently charged for multiple crimes, which included multiple drug trafficking and firearm arrests, but had remained on the street to kill her husband as a direct prosecutors’ decisions not to seek jail time for parole violations, dropping a drug charges, and refusing to seek appropriate bail. “We have a city in shambles,” O’Connor said. “We have a district attorney who says crime is down. Well obviously if you don’t prosecute criminals, of course, it appears that way. How many second, third, fourth, and even more chances are to be given?”

James O’Connor was assigned to the Philadelphia Police SWAT team serving an arrest warrant when a man wanted on murder charges opened fire on police, killing him. Mrs. O’Connor told lawmakers that the man accused in her husband’s slaying, Hassan Elliott, was found in a room with ten illegal guns and narcotics, and had been in and out of court for various gun charges and parole violations in the same year leading up to her husband’s murder. Each time, O’Connor testified, Krasner’s office refused to remand her husband’s murder suspect to jail. This policy of leniency, she said, emboldened criminals like Elliott. “In the months to come after, prosecutors would come to learn about five murders this male committed, after he proudly scraped the names into his prison cell wall,” Ms. O’Connor testified. 

“The DA in this city has displayed an incessant and transparent unwillingness to expose a person of privilege to the death penalty,” said Temple Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald’s parents Pauline and Joel Fitzgerald, who previously served with the Philadelphia Police before Joel was appointed to Police Chief positions in Texas and Colorado, described the execution-style murder of their son by an armed suspect Miles Pfeffer, who traveled from Bucks County, allegedly to commit a crime spree in North Philadelphia in February 2023. The Fitzgeralds offered testimony of an April 24th meeting at the DA’s office, where they were forced to lobby a committee of Krasner’s choosing on how the aggravating factors in their son’s murder case resulted in a capital (death penalty) case under Pennsylvania law. Joel Fitzgerald testified, “We should never have had to do that.”

Joel Fitzgerald said the perpetrator should get the death penalty, but that Krasner — who opposes capital punishment, declined to pursue it. Instead, Krasner asked the victim’s own family to come into the DA’s office and present reasons why the death penalty is appropriate, Fitzgerald said. “A district attorney in any state or commonwealth in the United States should stand up for the families and the victims of violent crime, and those folks should also be the people who represent us, and not have to be lobbied to do the right thing by law.”

District Attorney Krasner was not invited to the hearing, but Republicans criticized him for not appearing. While the press asked why Republican members didn’t invite Krasner, it was noted by Jordan that a bigger question was why House Democrats, who only had two witnesses, didn’t invite the sitting Democratic DA to appear themselves?

In a press conference less than two days before the hearing, Krasner said he would have liked to have been invited but had no knowledge of the event before the week of the hearing. This was refuted by the Fitzgerald family who noted that, in their April meeting with Krasner, they told him about the meeting and asked him to come. Joel Fitzgerald also offered to share an email exchange in which he reminded Krasner of the hearing, highlighting a lie told by Krasner in his answer to Fox 29’s Steve Keeley.

Krasner held press conferences with supporters on Thursday and again after the hearing Friday to push back against the Committee’s claims. He called it a “simulated hearing” and said it was more about painting Democrats in a bad light ahead of the November presidential and congressional elections rather than a good faith effort to address crime.

While the Republican committee members used their witnesses to show how Krasner’s pro-criminal policies made him the overall architect of the city’s surge in crime, the Democratic members invited two witnesses with expertise in gun violence prevention, painting a picture that Philadelphia is now experiencing some of its lowest levels of violence in years, noting a drop in crime rates since the highs of the pandemic. 

While it’s true that the 410 murders that closed out last year are a sharp decline from the Covid-era peak of 562, Democratic members and their witnesses failed to address the fact that the murder rate jumped from 315 to 353 the year after Krasner was elected and had never receded since. Democrats further countered that the committee’s time would be better spent addressing the flow of illegal guns on the street and supporting the agencies involved in those efforts. 

Democrats, including Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, hit back at her conservative colleagues by saying there were “two hearings” going on, contesting Republican criticism of Mr. Krasner’s office by highlighting GOP advocacy to defund the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “If conservatives were so worried about illegal gun prosecutions,” Dean said, “they should also empower the agency that monitors the flow of illegal guns in the country.”

In the most politicized moment of the hearing, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) dismissed the hearing as a “cynical political circus,” accused the committee of “trading on the pain of other people” stating that Chairman Jordan had “brought his traveling circus to town” with the hearing. In reply, Joel Fitzgerald said “We aren’t circus animals,” clarifying his need to speak for his murdered son. “We wouldn’t be used as circus animals.”

Democrats on the committee further panned the hearing as an attempt to politicize crime during an election year. Ranking Democrat Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) denounced what he called “pure political theater designed to create a forced narrative” about his party ahead of the November elections. In an embarrassing exchange less than one hour later, Nadler, who is Jewish, was seemingly awoken from his apparent boredom when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) entered in articles about Krasner’s being funded by megadonor George Soros into the record. Nadler accused Gaetz of antisemitism for his mention of Soros. Nadler declined to answer a question at the conclusion of the hearing as to whether the Soros donations to pro-Hamas protest groups on college campuses also constituted an act of antisemitism.

The Republican message was clear; “When you don’t prosecute bad guys, you shouldn’t be surprised that you get more crime. When you defund the police, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get more crime,” Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) said in his opening remarks. Philadelphia’s pro-criminal policies embolden criminals, while victims failed to receive the justice they deserve,” said Jordan, “Krasner uses his office to crusade against what he considers ‘social injustices,’ such as bail reform and reduced sentencing. However, his policies came at the expense of victims and lost lives.”

“We are not enforcing the law in the city of Philadelphia, and in many other locations in the United States of America,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew, (R-NJ). “Larry Krasner — I’m sorry, I’m gonna say it because you know I’m a blunt guy. … He’s a bad guy, he’s doing bad things.”

This testimony was backed up by statistics from the district attorney’s office showing the Krasner administration’s penchant for dismissing cases ever since he took office in 2018. Krasner has refused to pursue 43 percent of the cases brought to his office in his first year as the city’s top prosecutor. That was up from the 35 percent dismissal rate in 2017, when Mr. Krasner’s predecessor, Seth Williams, and Mr. Williams’ interim replacement, Kelley Hodge, were in office. In the following years, Krasner’s dismissal rate nearly doubled to 67 percent in 2021, when Philadelphia saw a record 562 homicides. In 2022, 514 killings were recorded in a year when the Krasner’s office declined to pursue 63 percent of cases brought by Philadelphia police. Following the state house impeachment, declining homicides correlated to Krasner’s decision to prosecute more cases in 2023, with the 52 percent dismissal rate in a year with 410 homicides citywide. Dismissals are up to 57 percent so far this year.

It was these dismissal rates that led to Krasner’s Pennsylvania House impeachment in 2022, in part for his stated policy refusal to enforce crimes from theft to prostitution to drug possession. At the time, Krasner dismissed the body for not “presenting a single shred of evidence connecting our policies to any uptick in crime.” He was overwhelmingly elected to a second term a year earlier.

These statistics may have something to do with why Democrat committee members failed to invite Krasner to testify. While they were sympathetic to the families of victims testifying on Friday, they continually reminded the audience that Krasner was overwhelmingly reelected in 2021. Instead, Democrats called witnesses who emphasized the need for legislative solutions, like ghost gun bans, red flag laws, and for violent crime to be treated like a public health issue versus a law enforcement matter. Scanlon, who herself was carjacked at gunpoint in 2021, called for enforcing gun trafficking laws and said Congress needs to regulate “untraceable, unregulated firearms” such as “ghost guns.” 

Dr. Abaya, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, testified about the impact of gun violence on youth and the efficacy of community violence intervention programs, which typically provide counseling, health care, housing and other services to help victims escape cycles of violence. Philadelphia is among many cities that have invested heavily in violence intervention programs in recent years, with few metrics and oversight controls.

Garber, executive director of CeaseFirePA, said researchers have found that half of shootings result from arguments, rather than from drug deals or other situations, and that regulating access to firearms would reduce the number of gun deaths. The state House has passed bills on universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, and ghost guns, he said, but the Republican-led state Senate has not taken them up. “There are multiple popular bipartisan gun safety policies to prevent a shooting before it happens, rather than more victims being created afterwards,” Garber said.

While both Garber and Abaya cited well-intentioned programs that may have long-term success, they failed to address the question of what happens when a gun offender is arrested, just to be released by the prosecutor assigned to keep our communities safe? 

A topic that wasn’t addressed by either side of the aisle until the question was raised to Chairman Jordan while he was leaving the hearing was where the federal oversight was into the Krasner administration. Coverage of civil rights complaints, missing funds, judicial admonishments, and conflicts surrounding the DA’s ‘famed’ Conviction Integrity unit have surfaced in numerous reports, with no comment from the FBI or US Attorney on whether or not these issues are being investigated federally. For that, Jordan asked to see the local coverage into these cases and would comment accordingly.

At the least, maybe Broad + Liberty will have a new reader from Ohio.

Based in Philadelphia, A. Benjamin Mannes is a consultant and 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

2 thoughts on “Ben Mannes: Congress comes to Philadelphia to investigate violent crime”

  1. Rep Madeline Dean said,“ If conservatives were so worried about illegal gun prosecutions, they should also empower the agency that monitors the flow of illegal guns in the country.” In response I say that if folks like Dean were so worried about the flow of illegal guns in the country, they should confront those who fail to prosecute those who have been charged with illegal possession.

  2. So Jim “Gym” Jordan brought his carnival act to Philadelphia for a witch hunt over Soros controlled D.A.’s. Just like his House committee meetings he promises block buster witnesses who land with a thud. All of his witness have been impacted by gun violence, which is tragic, but presented no solutions. All of his witnesses were there to provide drama, not solutions. Whereas the Democrats provided two witnesses who study this issue and had solutions.

    Why would D.A. Krasner attend a hearing where he can’t respond to anything that is being said. How dare one of the committee members point out that George Soros, a Holocaust survivor, has been used as an antisemitic trope for decades including at this hearing. Jim “Gym” Jones has yet to hear about a conspiracy theory he hasn’t liked. All he did was bring a bread and circus event to Philadelphia while not providing any actual solutions.

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