PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Violent crimes in Philadelphia are on an upward trend and there’s hope the new police commissioner will put a dent in those numbers. Commissioner Danielle Outlaw went before City Council during the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention hearing at City Hall on Thursday.
Outlaw has only been on the job for about 10 days, but in a city struggling with an epidemic of violent crime, there was a lot of anticipation for the hearing as City Council chambers were packed. It was the first time residents got a chance to hear Outlaw speak publicly about her plans on battling the city’s crime epidemic.
There have been a number of violent crimes since Outlaw took the job. Thursday’s hearing was planned as a direct response to many of those incidents, including Wednesday’s quadruple shooting near a school in North Philadelphia. It highlights why a new plan to combat violence is critical.
“I hope she’s bringing in change for us,” said Gwendolyn Toler, whose cousin is a murder victim.
The City Council chambers were packed as crime victims, families and public officials listened to Outlaw’s testimony.
“The Philadelphia Police Department firmly believes that all victims of crime deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and sensitivity,” Outlaw said.
“We’re in a crisis and this is a very serious issue and we need all hands on deck. More importantly, we need guns off the street,” Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said.
Johnson believes the homicide unit should be expanded, giving officers the support they need. That, in turn, would help to increase the homicide clearance rate beyond 51%.
“You have a homicide clearance rate with 50% of the people carrying a gun thinking they can get away with shooting or murdering someone,” Johnson said.
Attempted homicide survivor Rosalind Pitchardo, who lost a brother, boyfriend and twin sister, agrees.
“My boyfriend Howard Jackson was murdered the same day I was a survivor of attempted homicide by the same person. He only served 15 years in prison to get out to four months later to murder again a woman by the name of Maria Serrano from Reading,” Pitchardo said.
Victims’ families say changes in police policies and procedures are overdue.
“Everybody nowadays are running around here with guns and those ones who are killing might be the ones killing somebody’s son or daughter and walking around and do it again to someone else,” Toler said.
Many were pleased to hear that Outlaw is prioritizing compassion to victims and their families.
“As the mother of two sons, 21 and 18, I don’t know what I would do. I would be inconsolable,” Outlaw said. “So I couldn’t imagine. With that said, all I can do is put myself in the shoes of each of you and make sure that any decisions that we make are informed by that very passion and emotion that I feel if it were to happen to my loved ones.”
Johnson is hopeful the new commissioner will make a difference.
“From her background, I see that she’s been very effective as a commissioner and so we’re going to work with her,” Johnson said.
Some families in the room on Thursday were disappointed that more specific anti-crime prevention strategies were not outlined.
Outlaw says she plans to address some of these concerns in a five-year strategic plan, but she did not provide a timeline for details of that plan to be released.
For a list of gun violence resources in Philadelphia, click here.