D.A.: Crime Is a Deterrent to the City’s Growth

As of Monday, some 251 murders have occurred in the City of Brotherly Love, up 16 from the same time last year, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. In terms of percentages, the 2006 homicide rate represents a 25 percent spike from 2004.

To address such startingly statistics, District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who's held the office since 1991, fielded questions for more than an hour about the crime rate, whether it could imperil business and residential growth in Center City, and what — if any — political ramifications would ensure because of it.

This represents just a portion of her thoughts:

How bad is violent crime in Philadelphia right now?

"I obviously think it's very serious. Anytime you have a bunch of 15-, 14-, 13-year-old kids running around with guns shooting at other kids, you have a major, major problem. There is no question that if we are going to be a major American city — if we are going to be a destination city — if business is going to thrive, and if people are going to want to come and stay here, they have to have absolute reassurances.

"I don't want us to get carried away by saying crime is off the charts — it isn't. Many of our violent crime indicators are down in this city. But that gets lost, as it probably should, when there are so many shootings in the streets and so few people willing to come forward.

"There are at least five shootings for every homicide. Murder victims are young people, mostly male, mostly African-American. About 65 percent of homicides are in the southwest, east and northwest divisions. Most violent crime involving the murders you're talking about have not impacted Center City. But people are mugged in Center City, [and] they are raped in Center City.

"Most of the murders are victim-specific. They are not random. It's more like, 'I'm looking for you, I've got a beef with you. I'm not driving along the street, just willy-nilly shooting at somebody who walks by.' "

So what can be done about the situation?

"It's going to take a tremendous commitment of money and manpower. You're not going to be able to change everybody's behavior. A police officer is not going to be on the corner of everybody's neighborhood.

"But I think the city and the government can do much more than they're doing. I think we absolutely need more officers on the street. I think the commissioner and his staff are doing the absolute best they can with the manpower they have.

"But we've lost money from the federal government. Bill Clinton had 1,000 new police officers on the streets of Philadelphia. This government has other priorities right now, like wars."

Are there really fewer numbers of witnesses coming forward than there were in the past?

"There is a marked difference. In former times — no matter bad the homicide rate was — someone was always willing to come forward, and say John shot Charlie because Charlie bumped into the shooter's girlfriend or something.

"But now, people don't even want to talk to the police. They are intimidated, and they feel they are going to suffer reprisals, and they may absolutely be right about that. But not everybody is worried. We do prosecute thousands of cases every year where witnesses come forward."

Could violent crime become a major issue in the 2007 mayoral race?

"Oh, it already is. It shouldn't be any secret. Crime helps to dissuade people from coming here. But I think Michael Nutter is the only person who is a declared candidate. So we'll have to see what they say, and we'll have to see what the field is.

"But I can't think much about the mayor's race because I'm more concerned about getting Bob Casey elected to the senate. I know Rick Santorum; I'm not mad at him. I just think Casey is going to be a good, centrist-moderate person. I think our junior senator is too much aligned with George Bush and too much on the right. I think that there is a great deal of room at the table for moderates of both parties."

What does Joe Lieberman's defeat in the Connecticut Senate primary mean for the Democratic party?

"Well, I'll tell you something … I hope Joe Lieberman stays in the race. How do you like that! I wouldn't desert Joe Lieberman for Ned Lamont. I'm not saying I agree with the war; I'm not saying I agree with the president. I don't want to see this country go to the extreme left or the extreme right. I think centrism is the way to go. I don't think the party ought to be pressuring him to get out. He has a right to run."

What about the news of the terrorist plot to blow up 10 planes over the Atlantic Ocean? Does it hold any immediate lessons for this city in terms of preparedness?

"We are not prepared. We only think we are, but we're not. I think this country is in great peril. Who would have thought that somebody would get on a place with a bottle of Gatorade and a camera, and be able to create an explosive? You see that pen you have right there — that plastic pen — you could stab somebody in the heart with that.

"So anything is potentially a problem. It's precisely our way of life that other people don't like. They are insanely jealous of us. We are a beacon of freedom.

And because of that, "we are going to be in for a lot of trouble."



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