Police are making more gun arrests in Philadelphia while city prosecutors are losing or dismissing those cases in ever higher numbers, according to the city’s top cop.
“The trend lines are going in the opposite directions that we want them to go in,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw told members of City Council during an hours-long hearing on gun violence prevention on Tuesday.
Police arrests that have led to charges for Violations of the Uniform Firearms Act (VUFA) have trended upwards in recent years, reflecting the surging homicide and shooting rates, Outlaw said. VUFA charges can range from misdemeanors to felonies, the latter of which can result in years in prison for a conviction.
VUFA charges have gone from nearly 1,000 in 2015 to more than 2,000 in 2020, and have reached more than 700 so far this year, Outlaw said. During the same time period, homicides went from 280 in 2015 to 499 in 2020.
This year homicides are up 29% and shootings 51% compared with the same time last year, according to Outlaw.
Yet the Philadelphia district attorney’s VUFA conviction rate has plummeted from 71% in 2015 to 53% in 2020, according to Outlaw. During the same time period, the dismissal/withdraw rate has increased from 18% to 38%.
So far in 2021, the district attorney’s VUFA conviction rate is 31% and the dismissal/withdraw rate is 64%, Outlaw said.
The police commissioner said not only are more residents carrying illegal guns but they are turning to them more readily during altercations over such things as social media “beefs.”
Outlaw said ensuring “proper consequences” for gun violations could reduce gun violence.
“We are focusing on the illegal crime guns, because, we believe, if we do and if there are proper consequences down the road, we believe that it will put a dent in some of these shootings and homicides that we’re seeing,” Outlaw said.
Robert Listenbee, first assistant district attorney in District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Office, said during the hearing that the office has consistently prosecuted nearly all individuals in fatal and non-fatal shootings when arrests were made.
“The district attorney’s office is charging overwhelmingly almost all the cases where there are arrests,” Listenbee said.
Krasner, who also participated in the hearing, touted his office’s partnerships with the police department, saying they have led to improvements, including expanding the use of DNA evidence and more detailed police paperwork.