Tuesday, April 21, 2020

When It Comes To Crime Stats, Larry Krasner Is A Spin Doctor

By A. Benjamin Mannes 
for BigTrial.net

On April 17, 2020, a Virtual Public Safety Briefing was hosted by District Attorney Larry Krasner, Violent Crime Unit Chief Anthony Voci and DA’s communications director Jane Roh to discuss crime statistics in the city. 

This briefing struck many in the public safety community as strange, first because it heavily covered crime statistics; a task that is the responsibility of the police not the District Attorney, and that it seems to have marked a drastic shift in messaging for the District Attorney.

Since his election, D.A. Krasner has been almost uniform in his messaging toward his progressive base, and not appearing to have a “tough on criminals” tone.

However, this conference, in light of a steady rise in homicide since his election and the murder of Cpl. James O’Connor by a murder suspect and his friends who were all on the street despite recent criminal charges; Krasner’s “briefing” was more of an attempt at public reassurance than a simple update on ongoing prosecutions in the city.

The briefing started with updates on the O’Connor homicide and their charging of the other two occupants of the room charged that O’Connor’s murderer was held up in a multiple shooting on a SEPTA bus

It was a case that struck many as eerily familiar to the “Death Wish” inspired Bernard Goetz shooting of New York in 1984. The other case discussed by Krasner was the senseless murder of a child by her own mother who had previously had the child removed by child welfare investigators in the past…but somehow got her child back. 

 These types of updates are normal and expected for a DA’s Office, as the public wants to know how cases are being charged. What felt strange is the fact that Krasner started to cover the city’s crime statistics and highlighted the fact that while commercial burglaries and homicides are up; all other crimes are down.

From the viewpoint of a former police officer, this felt a lot like a common unethical law enforcement practice called “stat fixing”, and having experienced it first hand in the Charles Ramsey-led DC Metropolitan Police department; I am wondering why a District Attorney is reporting crime statistics that may have more “spin” than actual validity.

First, it’s important to understand that all crime statistics are reported to the FBI’s next generation crime reporting system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to be published in the annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR). The UCR is considered a public “report card” on a jurisdiction’s public safety. 

However, it’s important to understand that NIBRS doesn’t track cases through the courts (only those closed by arrest or reported formally), as well as those classified by police as a non-criminal “incident” or as “unfounded,” a category for when police say the victim is lying or the reported crime did not occur. While the FBI seeks ways to plug these gaps, many police commanders looking to “game” the use of computer statistics as a measurement of law enforcement success in a furtherance of political objectives have found just the unethical (and possibly criminal) method to do so.

This means, as I personally saw in DC at the hands of the same Chief and same PSA-system later brought to Philadelphia; things like thefts if there was no direct evidence on scene were classified as “lost property."

Domestic violence cases where both parties weren’t on scene or no visible injuries were seen were considered “domestic incidents”. Property as a result of criminal incidents like, vandalism, break-ins, and even shootings were classified as “damage to property” and, as many Philadelphia realtors and landlords can attest – criminals who burglarized vacant, unoccupied properties were suddenly considered “squatters”, instead of defendants for second-degree burglary charges. Unfortunately, this behavior is not unique to Philadelphia, as it was unfortunately seen in New York and even highlighted on the epic HBO show “The Wire” in regards to Baltimore.

Put simply, when an administration who spent the last two years talking about how “unfair” the criminal justice system is and how they need a more progressive, “hands off” approach starts to tout falling crime rate and notes aggressive charging of violent criminals, we should all be a bit suspicious.

What anyone simply following public reports and press coverage in Philadelphia over the last month knows is that:

1. Commissioner Outlaw has demanded that most arrests be curtailed for a warrant later to be issued amid the COVID-19 outbreak;

2. Most businesses are closed as well as public gathering places like playgrounds and corner bars, and . . . 

3. As a result, crime reports have gone down.

So, if the police aren’t bringing most suspects in to be fingerprinted, street narcotics and warrant enforcement is suspended and facilities are closed – it will of course reflect the downward falling crime stats that Krasner reported. 

What it doesn’t show is how many people are using fake names or worse, simply not being stopped due to Outlaw’s orders, meaning that the enforcement of these “warrants to be issued” will be scarce in the future. Furthermore, if most people are inside, there’s simply not that many street crimes to be reported. 

Does this mean crime is down? No. Unfortunately, it means that crimes are being perpetrated inside homes amid a population that traditionally underreports crimes committed by people known to them – so a true number of domestic violence and sex assault cases is unknown.

Furthermore, for a city that led the nation in urban opioid overdoses, it’s simply not plausible for anyone with a brain to believe that narcotics abuse is down in Philadelphia. In watching the briefing, it seemed as if this huge criminal justice issue was seemingly overlooked by Krasner.

If you want to find the truth, don’t just examine what is said by a politician, but what is missing as well. For a District Attorney who throughout his campaign and administration had rallied against narcotics enforcement under the guise of “not criminalizing addiction," who had vocally endorsed the concept of “safe injection sites” in Philadelphia to have nothing to say on narcotics enforcement in the same month that the COVID-19 outbreak was used to declare a moratorium on drug arrests – should strike anyone as strange. 

This also begs the question, especially to anyone in drug corridors like Kensington and Frankford, to how many people are still dying of opioid overdoses while everyone is focused on the Coronavirus?

The video briefing’s coverage of crime stats typically covered by the police department made more sense when Krasner got to the topic that took up the bulk of the conference, which is his ongoing mission to reduce the city’s jail population. This makes sense, because if the city feels unsafe given the statistically valid rise in homicides, then nobody will support his agenda of simply releasing people from jail. However, if they feel that their District Attorney is suddenly “tough on crime”, then maybe this plan won’t but society at risk.

The truth is, Krasner advocated for releasing people completing city sentences and those accused of “nonviolent” crimes. The problem with this is that in the very same briefing, Krasner admitted that, with the exception of court-ordered drug treatment, the destinations of these released prisoners is widely unknown. 

Therefore, he’s using the excuse of COVID-19, with an infection rate far lower inside Philadelphia jails (where on-site medical screening is offered) than in many of our city’s communities; to release criminals without the oversight and proper processing of a parole/probation screening by a shuttered First Judicial District.

More ironically, 24 minutes into the video, Krasner made the contradictory statement that he “does not intend to drop cases because of the caseload” or backlog created by the pandemic and said, “We intend to vigorously pursue and focus upon truly serious crime and also intend to engage on progressive prosecution that has been the benchmark of this administration."

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, DA Krasner. Any undergraduate sociology and/or criminology class shows that criminal behavior grows from quality of life crimes to “truly serious crime." Had you prosecuted Cpl. O’Connor’s murderer for possession of drugs and gun charges as seriously as prosecuted by your peers nationwide, Cpl. O’Connor would be alive today because his murderer would be in prison and not on the street.

This contradiction is further highlighted in minutes 28 & 29 of the briefing, when Krasner said that “No violent offenders were to to be released.” First, let’s define violent. Krasner has on numerous occasions defined drug trafficking as a nonviolentcrime. Anyone who has spent time in a high-intensity drug trafficking area knows that the process of retaining drug territory and maintaining a collection and secure transport of merchandise & receivables in the business of illicit drug sales is incredibly dangerous.

Worse, Krasner himself stated that he and the Public Defender are advocating for prisoner releases. Is that his job? No. The courts and correctional system are solely responsible for the post-sentencing retention and rehabilitation of prisoners. Meanwhile, there have been 116 murders in Philadelphia. If the Krasner administration is doing their job effectively, this number shouldn’t be up 16%; which may be why they seem focused on presenting a questionably rose-colored picture of crime stats.

It may also be why the District Attorney is using public funds better used to prosecute offenders in the creation of a “data lab” led by campaign supporter and statistician Oren Gur, who is frequently seen on twitter defending the offensive tweets of Krasner communications director Jane Roh. 

Gur’s job is to seemingly “spin stats” that seek to justify the radical experiment in progressive criminal justice undertaken by the Krasner administration, despite the Police Department’s own daily public reporting of crime statistics and those published annually by the FBI.

In summary, history shows us that when most crimes are seemingly dropping except for murders, then there may be an unethical or even unlawful under-reporting of crime stats at hand. In the early 1990s, DC Mayor and famed drug user Marion Barry said, “if you take out the killings, Washington actually has a very low crime rate."

Well you can’t disappear a body, so a city’s homicide rate is a great reflection of the safety of that city. Therefore, anyone listening to the reporting of crime from the administration of District Attorney Larry Krasner are best to take those words with a very large grain of salt.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with North America’s largest medical board.

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