Imagine living in a city where gun violence has gone down — way down — since 2020. A city where murderers are identified and arrested 70 percent of the time. Where people who shoot other people go to jail — but where those at risk of violence are offered an alternative. Where elected leaders lead by understanding they cannot do it alone, that it takes collaboration to heal a murder epidemic.
That city exists: It’s Chester, Pennsylvania.
Since October 2020, when Chester launched its Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods — a version of focussed deterrence — both homicides and nonfatal shootings in the city have decreased by 60 percent. Philly, meanwhile, is headed for a 7 percent decrease from last year’s record high homicide rate, which has steadily risen since 2015.
The police clearance rate for murders in Chester is at 70 percent — compared to the Philadelphia Police Department’s 40 percent — thanks to more trust between police and community members. And anecdotally, young men at risk of being involved in violence are instead taking proffered help with jobs, housing, and other social services — and telling their compatriots to put down the guns.
“They know that we’re locking people up — but also that we will work with you,” says Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. “We’ll help you get through some of those issues.”
Kirkland will join Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer and Chester Police Commissioner Steven Gretsky to lay out how Chester achieved its violence reduction at The Citizen’s 5th annual Ideas We Should Steal Festival on December 15. The event, at RJR Forum at Comcast Technology Center, will also include appearances by The Roots’ Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter; political thinkers Andrew Yang, Jennifer Rubin and Michael Steele; the mayor behind the country’s first housing reparations program; journalists Emily Bazelon, Jill Abramson, Ali Velshi and Errin Haines; and many other change makers from around the country.
Focussed deterrence was a pillar of Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer’s 2019 campaign. Once elected, he says, he looked into how best Chester could execute the program, first created as CeaseFire in Boston by criminologist David Kennedy. “I realized it’s all about collaboration,” Stollsteimer says. That collaboration — something that has eluded Philly’s current leaders — proved the key to turning the tide in Chester.
Though a much smaller city — with only 32,000 people and fewer than 25 homicides per year — Chester shows the power of focussed deterrence, which was piloted in Philly several years ago to great success in police districts in South and North Philly. Mayor Kenney, when he took office in 2015, stopped funding the program.
This conversation at the Ideas We Should Steal Festival will delve into what it would take to revive a similar program in Philly again, and how it might work.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misstated the level of 2022 homicides in Philadelphia. It is on track to be about 7 percent lower than in 2021.
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