As many American cities and communities face an onslaught of increased crime, a commitment from both federal and state elected officials to properly allocate law enforcement resources and time is paramount. The increase our country experienced in homicides between 2019 and 2020 was the largest single-year increase in U.S. history. Other crimes, like aggravated assault and vehicle thefts, also skyrocketed across the country. The CBS Evening News ran a series this summer entitled “Crime Without Punishment.” The chyron on the piece read “police struggle to close cases as unsolved murders rise.” In the story, CBS correspondent Jim Axelrod joins the Philadelphia Police Department and asks the question, “why do so many murders now go unsolved?”
In 2021, Philadelphia recorded 562 homicides, about eleven each week. As of the airing of the segment this summer, only half of those have been solved. In the 1960’s, police solved 8 out of every 10 murder cases in America. Today, it’s barely one in two. The theme from the detectives interviewed is namely one reason: the volume.
What chiefs nationwide told Axelrod was that the breakdown between police and communities of color is hindering murder investigations most. Danielle Outlaw, the Commissioner of the Philly PD, noted the police need the community’s help and knows it must be earned. Policing practices must build community trust and collaboration. We know that community trust can grow when police act as peace officers and focus resources of preventing and solving serious crimes. It’s evident that policymakers must set aside differences and tackle the problems facing our law enforcement’s strained resources with evidence-based solutions like our lives depend on it, because in many cases, they actually do. There are a number of fantastic state-level reforms that could have been sent to Governor Wolf this session to alleviate the strain on law enforcement, ensuring their energy is allocated to the most serious criminals and crimes.
On their first day back in Harrisburg following their summer break, a number of conservative and business community allies called on House Leaders to run Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Baker’s Comprehensive Probation Reform legislation. Present at the press conference was the American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity, Commonwealth Foundation, Faith and Freedom Coalition, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday and the Chamber of Business and Industry. Senate Bill 913 was sent to the House in December, after a near unanimous vote in the Senate. In Pennsylvania, the current probation system strains law enforcement resources.
More than half of the individuals admitted to our prisons are there for violations of probation or parole, but many aren’t criminal in any way. The legislation properly balances the equally important interests of corrections, the victim, the offender, and the commonwealth at large by establishing a system of graduated sanctions for those who violate other terms of supervision and ensures our limited resources are actually focused on those who commit new crimes. We await movement in the House with just a few scheduled session days remaining in the 2021-2022 Legislative Session.
One reform the House did advance to the Senate was House Bill 1419, which memorializes the best practices for law enforcement to utilize when working with incarcerated women. The legislation passed unanimously, with a clear signal from members across the political divide that care and concern for sensitive prison populations and the law enforcement who works with them is paramount.
A reform we’ll be working on next session, in coordination with the Innocence Project, is a mandate for the electronic recording of police interrogations. False confessions have led to 30% of wrongful convictions nationwide, 15 right here in PA. If we’re serious about setting up our law enforcement to be trusted partners in communities, we must ensure consistent best practices are applied across all 1,000 agencies in PA.
Increased faith and trust in the process, from police interactions on roadways and in communities to the interrogation room to the plea or prosecution to the incarceration to the community supervision, is paramount for an effective criminal justice system to protect people and preserve public safety. Americans for Prosperity has teamed up with Ja’Ron Smith, former special assistant to President Trump, and a coalition of other law enforcement and center-rights groups to launch an effort to elevate solutions that can reduce violent crime in communities of all types. This public safety coalition is advocating for four basic and commonsense principles: 1. We must properly fund law enforcement; 2. Our laws must refocus police on preventing and solving serious crimes; 3. Cities should adopt evidence-based policies that reduce violent crime; 4. States should continue to adopt smart on crime policies.
As legislators in Harrisburg think about missed opportunities from this session, our hope is a renewed focus next session. I’m Ashley Klingensmith, State Director with Americans for Prosperity-PA. Keep up to date with what our team is working on under the domes in D.C. and Harrisburg by liking us on Facebook by searching @PAAFP and by following us on Twitter at @AFPPennsylvania.