Blueprint Beyond Policing

Why we need a Marshall Plan to solve Gun Violence in our city

What if I told you there was a weapon available that Philly police could be authorized to use, that has been proven to significantly reduce crime by effectively targeting a city’s the highest-risk offenders? And now what if I told you this wasn’t a weapon at all but just smart policy that would literally start improving our lives the instant it was implemented.

Yet policy change is often the last thing we talk about, when it comes to crime prevention. 🤯

Why is it so hard for us to believe that improving quality of life for everyone will keep us all safer? Because we’re not given the right information on what really works to stop crime and keep people safe. For decades, the knee-jerk reaction of Philadelphians and City leaders to spikes in crime has been to add more police or give them more money. So now we have a police budget edging closer and closer to a billion dollars a year with a budget that already stands at over $800 million and a 6,500-officer force for a population of 1.6 million. 😮

A Lenfest Institute for Journalism poll found that 64% of Philadelphians reported hearing a gunshot in their neighborhood over the previous year. Nearly half, 49%, say that gun violence significantly impacts the quality of life in their neighborhood.

Two-thirds of Philadelphians say the City doesn’t have enough police. In actuality, Philly has one of the largest officer-per-capita police departments in the country, at nearly 41 officers per 10,000 people (not including university police departments, the Transit Authority, or Federal officers working in the Philly area). At any given time, however, 14% of our officers are out on some sort of injury-related leave – something that’d be unheard of in any other major US city.

Despite this (and PPD’s abysmal performance on arrests and convictions), shootings have decreased in 2023 by 30% since this same time over the previous two years, without any significant increase in funding or officers. The PPD’s budget and manpower has much less than we think to do with city crime rates, which still need to come down more btw.

So, how can we make our City a safe, equitable, and fantastic place to live? A Marshall Plan for Gun Violence would use data-driven strategies to provide a multi-pronged, holistic approach to crime reduction. There is a mountain of data that can provide us with those answers, and a whole toolbox of strategies we can tweak as we go, depending on each particular community’s needs.

The first step is fully investing in all our neighborhoods, from Chinatown to the Great Northeast, Kensessing to Kensington, South Philly to Allegheny West, Strawberry Mansion to Nicetown. Using a place-based strategy to develop a Marshal Plan for Philadelphia that centers on neighborhoods and people, the backbone of what makes our City great.

Data has shown that when neighborhoods are clean, all trash is picked up on streets, and vacant lots are cleaned, cared for, and used to support the neighborhood’s needs, violent crime rates go down by as much as 39%. When trees are planted on streets, you can reduce violent crime by an additional 12%.

Indeed, a 2018 Penn study tested some of the data around greening and restoring vacant lots in 500 Philly neighborhoods. The study found these benefits after the treatment of vacant lots in neighborhoods below the poverty line:

  • gun violence fell by 29.1%
  • burglary dropped by 21.9%
  • nuisance crimes fell by 30.3%
  • overall, a reduction in crime by 13.3%

The researchers concluded, “The restoration of this land can be an effective and scalable infrastructure intervention for gun violence, crime, and fear in urban neighborhoods.” If neglected housing is also repaired, violent crime goes down by as much as 22%. Good lighting, sidewalks and parks are additional improvements that are especially effective in reducing homicide numbers in particular — one Philly neighborhood found rates went down 76% after these basic infrastructure improvements.

A historical analysis of redlined and gentrified neighborhoods shows that where economic investment has been denied because of races, religion or ethnicity, there’s more likely to be violence even a century later. Numerous studies have shown that high poverty, crowded housing, a high density of liquor stores, mortgage foreclosures, and vacant buildings and lots are directly associated with higher rates of violence.

Conversely, when marginalized neighborhoods are supported and infused with economic opportunities that reduce inequality, crime goes down. A lot. Every time.

The city Controller’s Office reported in 2018 if the City invested $30,000 per homicide in these proven violence reduction efforts alone, homicides could decrease by 10% annually. Over five years, we’d spend about $43 million, and reduce homicide by 35%. That has real economic impact! The city would see a $70+ million return on investment via increased property tax revenue, minus program costs.

In study after study, in cities across the nation, we find again and again that relatively small amounts of funding are needed to produce meaningful results. Strategies like Cure Violence, Group Violence Intervention, and cognitive behavioral therapy provide a variety of reasonable, actionable plans that work.

Other Crime-Prevention Plans Worth Exploring:

  • Year-round schooling – Our next mayor, Cherelle Parker (a former public school teacher) is a big supporter of keeping school building open year-round, and lengthening the school day so allow students more opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, while providing a safe, supervised place for kids whose parents might work two jobs, or appreciate child care while they pursue training or classes to advance their career.
  • Youth workforce development and employment programs can reduce violence as much as 35% to 45%!
  • Upgrades/installations of HD-CCTV cameras throughout the city — Video surveillance of public spaces is a very cost-effective way to reduce, detect, and solve crimes especially in parking lots and public transit.
  • Literacy programs85% of all juveniles who interact with the court system are functionally low literate (60% of adult inmates are functionally or completely illiterate).
  • Food banks – A recent study found that for every 1% rise in food insecurity, violent crime rates increase by 12%. Science has also identified a link between a diet of cheap, high-fat food and aggressive behavior, especially in teens and young adults.
  • Air-conditioning — With record-breaking heatwaves, wildfires, and air quality issues, lack of air-conditiong in today’s world is a health crisis. Violent crime rates are higher on hotter days, and there are more fights at schools and prisons. Non profits like BlocPower work with municipalities to ensure all homes, shelters, and public buildings have solar-powered a/c..
  • Environmental cooling programs like tree planting, greening, white roof and gray street upgrades also help reduce heat-related stress, and contribute to quality of life for residents.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg – Philly is full of creative problem-solvers with innovative programs at the ready. It’s time to stop dumping all of our City’s problems in the laps of the police and create a Marshall Plan for Philly that will turn our City into the home we deserve, one that is worthy of the name City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection!

Agree? Disagree? Please add your thoughts and questions in the COMMENTS below. For more information, please follow the links provided for sources, research, visuals, and more for better understanding.

Explore the subject of evidenced-based police reform with “Reimagining Safety,” a new documentary that explains how smart policy can keep us all safer through proven, reasonable methods.

You’re Invited! WEDS NOV 15:
Free Community Screening with director and panelist discussion plus audience Q&A.
The Fallser Club at 3721 Midvale Ave, East Falls 
Doors open 6pm.
RSVP here to guarantee seating and pizza. 😋🍕  Read more here in our review!

About Cory Clark 68 Articles
Cory Clark is a photojournalist and writer who focuses on human rights and other social issues. His work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Philly Magazine and Fortune. He has worked as a freelancer for Getty Images, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse for many years. Currently, he serves as the Senior Reporter for both Revive Local and the New MainStream Press.

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