Is Philadelphia's District Attorney part of the solution or the problem?

Is Philadelphia's District Attorney part of the solution or the problem?

Just yesterday, I was taking a look at the spiraling murder rate (along with other violent crimes and gang activity) in Philadelphia and the responses from some residents who are reaching the boiling point over these conditions. As part of that analysis, I identified the person responsible for addressing these problems as Mayor Jim Kenney and pointed to some of his policies and decisions that don’t seem to be helping matters.

While it’s still clearly true that the captain is responsible when the ship hits an iceberg, and Kenney is the one in charge, there seems to be more to this story than first met my eye. A helpful reader who lives in the Philadelphia area was nice enough to drop me a line and point out that media analysts in the city have also been warning of problems coming out of the office of their most recent District Attorney, Larry Krasner. For evidence, we are pointed to a warning issued by Philadelphia Magazine opinion writer James D. Schultz back in June of last year. Schultz was already alarmed by the rising violent crime rates (which have only gotten worse since then) and said that this dangerous trend was entirely predictable. And the explanation is found in the campaign that was run by the new DA and the policies he put in place after taking office.

It was an interesting social experiment: What happens in a major metropolitan city like Philadelphia when you elect a district attorney whose primary goal is releasing criminals rather than prosecuting them?

The results, however, were all too predictable.

Gun-related violent crime is rising in Philadelphia. The police force is demoralized. Victims of crimes, their families, and advocacy groups feel betrayed.

This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.

When he was running for district attorney, Larry Krasner, supported by a PAC funded by George Soros, made his commitment to social reform and reducing the inmate population quite clear. He promised to fundamentally transform the city’s criminal justice system.

Schultz goes on to provide a great deal of supporting evidence for his accusation. Larry Krasner did indeed promise to “fundamentally transform the city’s criminal justice system.” And as Schultz wryly points out, no one can accuse Krasner of not following through.

During his first year in office, Krasner sent more than six times as many gun crime cases to a court “diversionary program” called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). This created something of a revolving door for criminals arrested for gun crimes, with some being put back out on the streets quickly on multiple occasions. Schultz highlights one case where a person convicted of gun crimes was set free twice, with his third trip back to court coming after he murdered someone.

We are also pointed to Krasner’s history as a criminal defense attorney in private practice. During that period he sued the police department 75 times. He is on record saying that the court system used to handle violent felons is “inherently racist” and since taking office he has pushed prosecutors to release defendants in violent crime cases with little or no bail far more often than previously. (If you’ve been following the news out of New York City this probably has a familiar ring to it.)

All of these factors (and more) put Schultz’s opening question in an alarmingly glaring light. Krasner openly ran for District Attorney pushing an agenda that focused more on getting criminals out of incarceration than on convicting the guilty and keeping them away from law-abiding citizens. The citizens of the City of Brotherly love apparently approved of this message and rewarded him by placing him in that powerful office.

Since that time, Krasner has apparently been achieving his goals in spades. More criminals are being released more quickly, including those charged with gun crimes. Fewer people are being locked up for significant stretches behind bars. And to the surprise of nobody – particularly Schultz – the murder, assault and drug trafficking rates have soared. So while the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the citizens of Philadelphia and the maintenance of the rule of law ultimately falls on the shoulders of Mayor Kenney, it would certainly appear that District Attorney Krasner isn’t helping matters any.

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