The bill would renew the state attorney general’s “concurrent jurisdiction” with the Philadelphia district attorney, letting the commonwealth shoulder part of the effort to prosecute firearm-related offenses in a city where many feel the job isn’t getting done.
Representatives Martina White (R-Philadelphia) and Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford) introduced the measure in January, citing what they consider Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s laxity toward gun violence and illicit trafficking.
“Philadelphia’s district attorney is not prosecuting crimes well enough to help prevent what is taking place in Philadelphia in terms of homicides,” White said to House colleagues.
Williams, himself a former prosecutor, noted that city police arrested more than 3,000 previously convicted felons for possessing guns last year and that only 49 percent of those arrestees — who were in alleged violation of both federal and state law — were convicted. He furthermore observed that Philadelphia has recorded 152 murders so far this year and that 420 carjackings have taken place during that time.
Overall crime trends since Krasner’s taking office in 2017 have been decidedly for the worse. That year, 315 homicides took place in Philadelphia, whereas an all-time high of 562 occurred last year. The district attorney’s critics have posited that the city’s deepening violent-crime problem largely owes to Krasner’s tendency to release many recidivists.
Krasner won his first election aided by $1.7 million in contributions from progressive billionaire George Soros, a backer of many district-attorney candidates across America who have shared Krasner’s platform of leniency toward offenders and his often adversarial relationship with his city’s police.
Williams said that his and White’s legislation will provide the City of Brotherly Love a “critical tool” toward reducing violence insofar as enforcing laws against criminal gun carriers will prevent many murders and other aggressions before they occur.
Municipal officials have sometimes griped that a more robust effort to prosecute gun criminals would require more resources. In 2019, when state lawmakers created legislation to give the state Attorney General’s Office the authority to pursue many of the city’s firearm cases to ease the city’s burden, nearly all senators and representatives voted affirmatively. Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), however, never utilized concurrent jurisdiction during the initial two-year period for which it was granted.
Declining to gainsay Shapiro — who is now running for governor — many Democratic legislators opposed the White-Williams bill.
“Neither the district attorney nor the AGO is in support of this legislation,” Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-Philadelphia) said as he urged colleagues to vote against it.
The bill did pick up some Democratic support since it passed the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. No committee Democrats supported it at the time but Reps. Joe Hohenstein (D-Philadelphia), Melissa Shusterman (D-Paoli) and Mike Zabel (D-Drexel Hill) reversed their positions and voted in favor of it on Wednesday.
The concurrent-jurisdiction measure would sunset in 2025 after which lawmakers could renew it if they choose. It awaits consideration by the Republican-controlled state Senate.
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