Brian Saunders Tribune Staff Writer - Dec 15, 2021
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City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and Councilmember Gauthier decried what they consider the mayor's week response on Gun Violence.
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, D-3rd District, released a joint statement Wednesday about the lack of immediacy in responding to the ongoing gun violence by Mayor Jim Kenney and his administration.
As of Wednesday, Philadelphia had 530 homicides, most of them by gunfire, and 1,749 non-fatal shooting victims in 2021.
"As 2021 draws to a close, we are reflecting on a year in which gun violence has ripped our city apart," the statement said. "529 Philadelphians — men, women, and children — murdered. Most of them killed with a gun. The families and friends of these victims are reeling, mired in grief. Whole communities are traumatized and afraid."
According to Rhynhart and Gauthier, Philadelphia's homicide rates and shootings have continued to rise over the last five years and have disproportionately affected the city's disadvantaged areas. They said the gun violence plaguing the city is coupled with decades of what they deem racist government-sponsored programs that contributed to inequalities and lack of access to resources such as secure and stable jobs ad education.
"As the gun violence has reached record-breaking levels, we've tried to use the power of our offices to push the Kenney administration to develop a comprehensive response to gun violence, proposing evidence-based strategies to address this crisis with the urgency it requires," the statement said.
On July 22nd, when Philadelphia already had 309 homicides and around 1,300 shooting victims, Rhynhart and Gauthier wrote a letter to Kenney noting that if nothing changed, the city was on pace for 550 homicides by year's end. With two weeks remaining in 2021, Philadelphia is just 20 homicides short of that number.
In a letter to Rhynhart and Gauthier, Kenney said he would not declare a citywide emergency to address the crisis, saying it would not change conditions throughout the city.
Rhynhart and Gauthier wrote back, saying, "If your administration aims to promote equity for our city's most vulnerable residents, then your administration should use the approach to combating the opioid crisis as a model for how to tackle gun violence. To ensure that residents and communities receive the care and attention they desperately need."
The councilmember and controller asked for increased programming by the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Centers in 14 zip codes where a lot of the violence is happening.
They also asked for a detailed plan for expansion of recreation programs; access to quality treatment and mental health services from the Department of Public Health and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services; investment of $5.6 million in workforce development funding; engagement from non-profit and for-profit community partners, and the formation of a Gun Violence Emergency Response Team to implement strategies to respond to gun violence hot spots.
On top of that, they call for a collaboration between the City Council and the Managing Director's Office of Violence Prevention to allocate $20 million in additional anti-violence funding for 2022.
"That letter, and our public demand for more action from the mayor, ignited a back-and-forth correspondence between our offices and the Kenney administration over a two-month period," the statement from Rhynhart and Gauthier said. "The administration's replies were lengthy but half-hearted. We asked for detailed plans and timelines; in response, the administration defended its work, asserting that every objective we outlined was already underway."
According to its joint statement, the administration used its Tactical Team as an example of its "all-hands-on-deck" approach. However, it never released a report on the details of the team.
"The Tactical Team is comprised of a number of city agencies including the Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Police, Health Office of Violence Prevention, Town Watch, Commerce, Department of Human Services, Community Empowerment and Opportunity, Community Life Improvement Program, Licenses & Inspections, and others. These sessions also include a number of community stakeholders," said a statement from Kevin Lessard, Director of Communications for the office of the mayor.
Both Gauthier and Rhynhart said they were disappointed with the mayor's inaction.
"The administration's failure to answer our demands for a more comprehensive and urgent response to gun violence, including providing trauma services to those affected by gun violence and prioritizing the ZIP codes with the highest volume of shootings, is unacceptable," the joint statement said.
Rhynhart and Gauthier said they are frustrated and angry with Kenney's approach but won't stop working towards finding real, sustainable solutions to help the city.
"We appreciate Councilmember Gauthier's and Controller Rhynhart's attention to this issue," said the statement from Lessard.
According to Lessard, statistics show that after the launch of the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) evidenced-based strategy in August of 2020, Southwest Division Philadelphia saw decreasing numbers of gun violence over six months.
In the 12th District, there has been a 33% decrease in fatal shootings and a 13% decrease in non-fatal shootings. In the 18th District, a 45% decrease in total shootings, a 40% decrease in homicides and 46% fewer non-fatal shootings. In the 19th district, there were 26% fewer total shootings, an 18% decrease in homicides, and a 20% decrease in non-fatal shootings. Finally, in the 16th District, fatal shootings were flat, while non-fatal shootings have increased 34%.
Kenney's administration has also released over $14 million in Community Expansion and Targeted Community Investment Grants in recent months.
"The mayor firmly rejects and is deeply offended by the notion that he and his administration have not taken the epidemic of gun violence seriously," the mayor's office stated. "We will continue to work with our criminal justice and community-based partners to address this challenge, save lives, and protect communities in every corner of Philadelphia."
Controller Rhynhart and Councilmember Gauthier said they would continue their efforts to address gun violence and to get the administration to do more.
"These efforts include partnering with members of the community, other elected officials, criminal justice stakeholders, and anyone else that is committed to ending the gun violence crisis," an email from both offices said.
This article was originally published by The Philadelphia Tribune. You can read it by clicking here.