‘Violent city’ tackles violence with stiffer penalties

Memorials to victims of crime are commonplace in Philadelphia.

Once a month, the cemeteries are full of flowers, candles and stuffed animals on the street corners, restaurants and schools with messages expressing condolences for victims of crime.

Citizens drive by the graves of victims on a regular basis. They see the names, hear the inscriptions and cringe in disgust.

“These are the unfortunate stories that happen and when it happens to you as a citizen, it’s heart-wrenching,” said Robert Baker, a City Council member who serves the 1st District, which includes Philadelphia’s Northeast.

Few months go by when there are not a string of homicides in the area.

Last year, the 1st District recorded its 104th homicide, which on a daily basis amounted to more than one a day.

“There’s a shift in crime and as criminals, we sometimes enter a cycle, where it starts slowly and then it escalates,” said Mr. Baker, who supports expanding parole and probation services for repeat offenders, like certain types of gun cases.

Mr. Baker said he has tried to tackle Philadelphia’s violence through two measures in the Philadelphia City Council, a plan that went before its last meeting of the year and one that would decrease the amount of small crimes that come with “failure to yield” in cases where a conviction is due within a month.

If a person is arrested for a misdemeanor that falls under failure to yield, a conviction is one month away but the person still hasn’t been sentenced. That’s why Mr. Baker’s proposal would require bail be set before such a conviction, preventing the person being released from the system.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he will focus on five crime categories this year: murder, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft.

“Because we have one of the highest murder counts in the country, you will see more uniformed officers on patrol,” Commissioner Ross said. “You will see us work with people like District Attorney [Cara] Grissom on crime suppression efforts and part of that might include the criminal justice system and making sure the right people go to jail at the right time, not the time of sentencing.”

Last year, Philadelphia had nearly three murders per day and roughly 10 homicides a week.

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