The Big Picture in Philadelphia

Many people have asked me if I watched the recent PBS documentary about Larry Krasner. So I started watching. I immediately noticed that the documentary lacked context about crime in Philadelphia. Is it high? Is it low? Context matters. Crime rate is perhaps the most important and basic contextual information that viewers should have.

Philadelphia consistently ranks above the national average in terms of crime, especially violent offenses. It has the highest violent crime rate of the ten American cities with a population greater than 1 million residents. Many crimes are not reported, so an estimate of the actual crime rate can be difficult. But homicide is virtually always reported or discovered. So criminologists often look to the homicide rate as the most accurate way to estimate the overall crime rate. Philadelphia’s homicide rate is awful.

Year20162017201820192020
Number of Homicides277315351356499
Philadelphia Homicide Rate17.421.122.222.731.8
Source: Wikipedia

Philadelphia compares badly to California and the rest of the country.

Year20162017201820192020
Los Angeles Homicide Rate6.15.75.65.08.6*
California Homicide Rate4.94.64.44.25.5
National Homicide Rate5.35.34.25.05.7*
Source: Wikipedia; Crime in California; *Crime Data Explorer [preliminary data]; FBI/UCR; LA Almanac; *LA Daily News [estimate].

The best comparison would be to the City of Los Angeles. Philadelphia has nearly four times the murder rate of Los Angeles. That is an incredible number. Compared to the California and national homicide rate, Philadelphia fares even worse. Based on the statistics, you are almost six times as likely to get murdered in Philadelphia than the State of California.

These statistics show that crime is high in Philadelphia. What role does Larry Krasner have in this failure, as District Attorney? Statistics are hard to come by in this area. But we should remember the basics. First, prosecutors can lower crime by incapacitating criminals in prison. An imprisoned criminal is not out committing homicides, obviously, and prosecutors have the largest role in determining sentence length. Second, Krasner does not want to exercise this power. He does not believe in long-term incapacitation. Third, the recent national crime wave has hit Philadelphia harder than the nation as a whole, harder than California, and harder than Los Angeles. A reasonable person should ask, “Is Krasner’s failure to incapacitate criminals part of the reason why Philadelphia is suffering?”

I’m sure there are more complicated issues raised by the show. But when I think about the big picture, I’d like to know whether Krasner is doing his job, and it looks like he isn’t.

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