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To this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the enhanced audio edition of Mensah M. Dean’s story

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Is Larry Krasner Soft on Crime?

The DA just won his second historic conviction of an on-duty police officer. Here’s why House Republicans are using that against him

Is Larry Krasner Soft on Crime?

The DA just won his second historic conviction of an on-duty police officer. Here’s why House Republicans are using that against him

Before Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner took office in 2018, the last time a city police officer was convicted for an on-duty killing was during the Carter administration in 1978. Before that, the only other conviction of an on-duty Philly killer cop took place in 1870, when Ulysses S. Grant was president.

[Editor’s note: This story was also published by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence in America. Sign up for its newsletters here.]

Now in his seventh year in office, Krasner has garnered as many convictions: Most recently, he won the city’s first-ever murder conviction against an officer who killed a 12-year-old boy while on duty. Edsaul Mendoza fatally shot Thomas Siderio, in March 2022; he pleaded guilty to third-degree murder on April 18.

“I am proud of the fact that we try to get it right every day, and we do not accept or recognize a caste system where the life of any particular person is more important than the life of any other person,” Krasner said during an April 29 interview with The Trace. “I find that repugnant.” Krasner, who was reelected in 2021 with 71.8 percent of the vote, declined to say if he will seek a third term next year.

“Every now and then, you have a situation where someone in law enforcement has committed a crime and they have to be accountable for it like everyone else.” — Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner

But even as Krasner fulfills his campaign promise to arrest cops who break the law, his critics say that he is so soft on crime that he’s actually contributing to the city’s gun violence crisis. At the same time, they contend, he is hampering the Police Department’s ability to find enough recruits to fill roughly 1,000 open officer positions.

Krasner has been subjected to a steady stream of criticism in recent years from those who accuse him of behaving more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor. The latest came on May 3, when the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee traveled to Philadelphia to hold a field hearing on violent crime. Republican lawmakers, the committee’s majority, joined with crime victims to attack Krasner. Last year, he survived being removed from office after the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that his impeachment by the Republican-led state House of Representatives did not pass legal muster.

Prosecuting Philadelphia police officers

Before Krasner took office, the two Philadelphia officers convicted for on-duty slayings were Marcus Giardino, who pleaded guilty in 1978 to involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Michael Carpenter, a 19-year-old Black man, in the back during a traffic stop; and John Whiteside, who was convicted of manslaughter for the 1870 shooting of Henry Truman. That slaying, the nation’s first on record of a free, unarmed Black man killed by police, was commemorated by members of the Congressional Black Caucus who wore “1870” lapel pins to President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address.

During his first week in office in 2018, Krasner pledged to go after officers who violate the law. These prosecutions, he said, are the result of following the facts, being fair, and keeping his word.

“If you look at the number of law enforcement officers who have fired their guns and been cleared, that number is probably close to 200,” he said. But because prosecutions and not clearances get announced, he added, people are likely unaware of that.

“Every now and then, you have a situation where someone in law enforcement has committed a crime and they have to be accountable for it like everyone else,” he said.

In total, Krasner has charged four officers for fatal shootings on-duty: In addition to Mendoza’s conviction, a jury convicted Eric Ruch of voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Dennis Plowden, 27, and Mark Dial is jailed without bail while awaiting trial for first-degree murder in the shooting of motorist Eddie Irizarry, 27.

“The criminals in Philadelphia look at everything that goes on here. They know that Krasner gives them a free pass.” — Joel Fitzgerald, former PPD officer and father of slain Temple officer Christopher Fitzgerald

The fourth officer, Ryan Pownall, was charged with third-degree murder in 2018 for the death of David Jones, 30. A judge dismissed the charges last year, and an arbitrator in April ruled that Pownall must be reinstated to the Police Department. Krasner said the Pownall investigation remains open, but he declined to discuss his next move in the case.

Krasner’s prosecution of officers puts him in rare company. While police kill 900 to 1,200 people each year nationwide, just 15 to 20 officers are criminally charged, with 1 to 2 percent of them being convicted, said Philip M. Stinson, a lawyer, former cop, and criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, where he operates a national database that tracks crimes committed by officers.

From 2005 through this March, 193 non-federal law enforcement officers were charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings: 60 cases resulted in convictions, 86 resulted in non-convictions, and 47 are pending, Stinson said.

It’s getting easier to prosecute police officers, Stinson said, because of the proliferation of surveillance, cellphone, and body-worn cameras. “They’re treating these cases seriously,” he said of Krasner’s office. “And when appropriate, they are bringing criminal cases, knowing damn well they may not get a conviction.”

But David Fisher, a retired city cop and president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Black Police Officers Association, said Krasner’s convictions of two on-duty officers is not outstanding in a city where officers have shot 54 people since 2020.

“He did say he was going to arrest police officers when he ran, but how many did he actually get convicted in seven years?” Fisher said. “I’m not impressed.”

A spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the union that represents city cops, declined to comment on Krasner’s prosecutions.

Does going after cops impact criminals?

Krasner’s foes are using his track record of police convictions to make their case that he’s enabling violent crime. Already, people have accused Krasner of being a member of a cabal of progressive big-city prosecutors who push soft-on-crime policies like opposing cash bail for some defendants, not prosecuting some nonviolent misdemeanor crimes, opposing the death penalty, and, generally, not backing cops.

“It’s deeply concerning that Krasner harbors a very strong animosity, and I would say a severe hatred, towards the Philadelphia Police Department,” Nick Gerace, a retired Philadelphia officer, testified at the May 3 hearing. “His personal vendetta against the police has created a hostile environment and hindered the collaborative efforts needed to maintain law and order.”

Joel Fitzgerald, a former Philadelphia officer and former chief of police in Fort Worth, Texas, said his family is appalled that Krasner has refused to seek the death penalty against the man who shot his son, Christopher, execution-style while he was working as a Temple University public safety officer last February.

“The criminals in Philadelphia look at everything that goes on here,” he said. “They know that Krasner gives them a free pass.”

Terri O’Connor, widow of slain city Police Officer James O’Connor, joined the group in critiquing Krasner. “We have a city in shambles. We have a district attorney who says crime is down. Well, obviously, if you don’t prosecute criminals, of course it appears that way,” said O’Connor. She testified that the man charged with fatally shooting her husband on March 13, 2020 had been arrested multiple times, but stayed on the street because of how Krasner’s office handled his cases.

The day before the hearing, Krasner, who was not invited, held a news conference to denounce the records of the Republicans who convened it, including Representatives Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz.

“They’re all coming out of states where you are at much higher risk of being killed,” he said, noting that homicides in Philadelphia are down more than 35 percent compared to the same time last year. “They’re all coming out of states where the crime patterns are higher.”

Mensah Dean is a staff writer at The Trace. Previously he was a staff writer on the Justice & Injustice team at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he focused on gun violence, corruption and wrongdoing in the public and private sectors for five years. Mensah also covered criminal courts, public schools and city government for the Philadelphia Daily News, the Inquirer’s sister publication.


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