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Bucks Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Crack Down on Crime

After a surge in suburban crime — including a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses — a group of Bucks County lawmakers led by GOP Sen. Frank Farry are sponsoring legislation to fight back.

“Every day when you turn on the news, those of us in the Philadelphia media market see what’s going on,” said Farry. “You see different and evolving crimes happening in our communities and our neighboring communities. We think it’s our responsibility, as public figures, to step forward and make sure proper statutes are on the books to help the men and women in law enforcement have the tools they need to do their jobs.”

And they had plenty of backup from the local police. About two dozen police representatives from Bucks and Montgomery Counties were on hand at Thursday’s press conference Thursday outside the Northampton Township Police Department to endorse their efforts.

Lawmakers are introducing the bills because of “feedback we’ve heard from law enforcement, feedback we’ve heard from victims, feedback from our communities, and feedback we’ve heard from prosecutors,” said Farry. “We want to ensure that law enforcement has the proper tools in their tool chest to be able to properly charge crimes that will ultimately lead to convictions.”

Warrington Police Chief Daniel Friel, president of the Police Chiefs’ Association of Bucks County, said, “We’ve seen increases in nearly every category of crime that affects the average citizen or business owner. These categories include robbery, burglary, thefts from vehicles, retail thefts, thefts of catalytic converters, and firearms thefts…We have seen a 32 percent increase in thefts from vehicles since last year (and) a 28 percent increase over the average of the past three years. Theft of catalytic converters in Warrington Township is up 85 percent since last year, and again, that’s a 237 percent increase over the past three-year average.”

Perhaps most disturbing, “There’s already a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses, which is an 89 percent increase over the past three years,” said Friel.

And illegal car meetup rallies have become common in Bucks County, overwhelming municipal police forces, he said.

The bills include mandatory jail time for illegally possessing a firearm, cracking down on porch pirates, reducing catalytic converter robberies, increasing penalties for gun store robberies, putting the brakes on vehicle meetup rallies, and enhanced charges for rioters.

Warrington Police Chief Daniel Friel speaks with Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey, Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (left), and Rep. Kristin Marcell (right).

Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey called them “common sense.”

“First, mandatory jail time for illegal gun possession is absolutely needed in Pennsylvania,” he said. “In Bensalem, we’ve experienced a 75 percent increase in illegal guns. We’ve seized 174 illegal guns in that timeframe. More distressing is the fact we’ve arrested 21 convicted felons for illegally possessing a firearm this year to date.”

“Without strong penalties, these felons are often released and go back to carrying illegal guns,” he said. “And worse, they use the illegal guns on innocent victims.”

And catalytic converter theft is booming. One Bensalem business had 58 catalytic converters stolen from its fleet of vehicles, which cost more than $100,000 to replace. When officers see someone with a truckload of catalytic converters, they can’t charge them “even when they have no legitimate purpose to carry them.”

“And the car meetups, the drifting, it’s absolutely crazy,” said McVey. “They’ve popped up in our jurisdictions. They overtake areas. They have no regard for anyone’s safety.”

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Wrightstown) thanked Farry for shepherding the porch pirates bill, which increases penalties for that type of theft, through the Senate. It awaits passage in the House.

“Especially with the holiday season, where more people are relying on mail-order purchases, it’s more important than ever to protect consumers and to think about how we can help,” she said. She said that stealing boxes from people’s porches is not a victimless crime. For example, it could be medicine ordered by an elderly person that’s stolen.

Afterward, Marcell told DVJournal that Democratic Reps. Joe Ciresi (D-Royersford) and Ed Ne9lson (D-Philadelphia) are also sponsors.

Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Langhorne) said, “What’s happening in our cities right now is a choice. The decline, the prosecutorial decisions, is a choice…to allow violent criminals to be released out on bail to go back and commit more crimes. This morning, I learned that an individual who was picked up in the burglary and the rioting two days ago was released on bail on a murder three charge. (They were) right back out committing more crimes.”

Hogan introduced a bill in response to crooks who robbed a gun store in Langhorne in the middle of the night.

“If you rob a gun store and steal guns, you are going to jail for a mandatory minimum of time,” said Hogan. “We’re going to take that decision away from these prosecutors who are letting our cities fall into chaos, and we’re going to make sure that if that crime is committed, you are going to jail, and you’re going to be there a long time.”

Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) said, “Nearly 40 percent of the crime committed in Bensalem is not committed by Bensalem residents but by individuals crossing over the border from Philadelphia. Sadly, the city continues to send a message of tolerance. I stand here today with my colleagues and law enforcement to make our message very clear: Bucks County will not tolerate what’s going on in the city.”

“We will always fight to maintain the quality of life we enjoy here in Bucks County,” Tomlinson said.

PA House GOP Prepares To Get Tough On Prison Escapes

Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante’s escape from the Chester County Prison has people increasingly concerned about security at county jails.

In recent months, inmates also escaped Philadelphia and Warren County jails.

Several state House Republicans have teamed up to introduce a package of bills designed to make county prisons more secure. The five bills would provide funding to upgrade security and health infrastructure (including heating and air conditioning); increase staff by allowing jails to hire other county corrections officers or state corrections officers to fill vacant shifts; eliminate parole for inmates who escape or attempt escape; require Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to conduct a security audit of county jails that have experienced a jail escape; and create an alert system to be activated in the event of a prison escape.

Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chester/Delaware) said the state needs to send the counties more resources to improve their jails and help with staffing shortages.

“Pennsylvanians deserve to know that our county jails are safe and secure, and we must do more to improve working conditions for our county corrections officers to enhance recruitment and fill staffing shortages,” said Williams, who is sponsoring legislation to require that a more significant portion of the savings from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) be directed to fund Pennsylvania’s county jails to improve security and promote the safety of inmates and staff.

“The bill I will be introducing will provide needed state resources to assist counties in keeping communities safe, securing county jails, and providing for our county corrections officers who put their lives on the line to keep some of the most dangerous criminals among us in custody,” Williams said.

Stressing the importance of preventing repeated escapes from county jails, Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester) said his legislation would require the DOC to investigate any prison escape at a county prison and make recommendations to prevent future incidents.

Before Cavalcante’s escape on Aug. 31, another inmate used the same method to break out in May. He was caught within minutes because a tower guard spotted him.

“Any jailbreak from a county prison demands a thorough review from experts at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the State Police,” said Lawrence. “Repeated escapes from the same county-run facility cannot be tolerated, and failures in county prison administration must be addressed to prevent future catastrophes.”

“My proposal will require the Department of Corrections to conduct a full security and staffing review at any county jail that experiences an escape or attempted escape, working in cooperation with local officials, the State Police, and other law enforcement officials that the department believes should participate,” Lawrence said. “Following this review, the Department of Corrections will be required to issue a report that includes specific recommendations to address the flaws in security or staffing that helped facilitate the escape or attempted escape and follow up to ensure compliance.”

Rep. Mike Stender (R-Northumberland/Montour) will be introducing legislation to create the Pennsylvania Dangerous Inmate or Escapee Alert System (DIEAS), which will assist in protecting impacted communities and capturing dangerous inmates when they escape from incarceration through prompt notification to the general public, appropriate law enforcement and other public agencies. The Pennsylvania State Police will run the DIEAS system.

“This simple alert system, like an Amber Alert, will notify local communities when an inmate escapes, their description, and any other useful information that can enhance community safety and the swift recapture of an escaped inmate,” said Stender.

To deal with staffing shortages at county jails, Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) will introduce legislation to allow county jails to hire off-duty staff from other county jails or the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to bolster county jail staffing where shift vacancies arise.

“A persistent problem facing county jail facilities is the lack of trained staff to undertake the important public safety function of keeping inmates at county jail facilities in custody,” Delozier said. “With having SCI Camp Hill in my district, I know our state corrections officers are hardworking, highly trained, and skilled in securing inmates. We need to break down existing barriers and get government out of the way so those already trained in prison security can assist in bolstering staff complements, keeping inmates in jail, and ensuring our communities are safe from prison escapes.”

Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Forrest) will offer legislation as part of this package to prohibit inmates who have escaped or attempted to escape county jail custody from being eligible for parole to make escape attempts less enticing.

“When inmates face less than significant consequences for escaping or trying to escape custody, sometimes the risk is worth the reward,” Rapp said. “The Legislature can and should use every legislative tool to ensure inmates are completely disincentivized from attempting escape. The recent and unacceptable pattern of county jail escapes in the last several months shows now is the perfect time to reevaluate how we are punishing county jail escapes and attempted escapes.”

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Two DelVal Dems Want Mandatory Background Check to Buy Ammo

Guns don’t kill people. Bullets do.

At least that’s the thinking behind legislation proposed by two Delaware Valley Democrats who are turning their sights on rising gun violence by attempting to restrict access to ammunition.

State Sens. Art Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) and John Kane (Delaware/Chester) are sponsoring two bills to make it harder to buy ammo.

The first bill would require the Pennsylvania State Police to perform background checks on anyone who wants to purchase ammunition, just as they do background checks for those who buy guns. The second would require identification to prove ammunition buyers are 18 or 21, depending on the type of ammunition they want to buy. The lawmakers say sellers are not currently required to ask for ID in such cases.

In signing statements advocating their proposals, Haywood and Kane cited the mass shooting at Philadelphia’s Roxborough High School last September. Police said at least six people – five gunmen and a getaway driver – were involved in the ambush of 14-year-old football player Nicolas Elizalde.

According to police, the shooter simply walked into a Philadelphia gun shop and bought the ammo used in the shooting despite being a convicted felon.

“Although Pennsylvania law bars an individual with a felony record from purchasing firearms or ammunition, the Commonwealth does not regulate the sale or purchase of bullets,” a police statement said.

Asked for additional comments by DVJournal,  the two senators stood by their signing statements.

Jim Stoker, the president of Pennsylvania-based Firearms Owners Against Crime, believes the bills are “absolutely not” necessary.

“First of all, we know that background checks don’t do anything to stop crime,” said Stoker. “That’s been proven time and time again. The bad guys traditionally don’t source their guns through retailers because they have to identify themselves. If it doesn’t work with firearms, it’s certainly not going to make a difference with ammunition.

“Registering ammunition or serializing ammunition through microstamping just means they will be able to identify who bought the ammunition at a store,” he continued. “It’s not going to change the course of where that ammunition goes, where the bad guys get their ammunition.

“It’s certainly going to add an expense or an intrusion on the Second Amendment or, in our case, Article 1, Section 21 in Pennsylvania,” Stoker added. “So, once again, they’re going to add fees and do what they can to inconvenience the law-abiding citizens of the commonwealth while having zero impact on criminals or crime across the state.”

The senators insist their proposal is both modest and effective.

“Gun violence is prevalent in America, and its web of impact reaches everyone, including children. Forty-eight children under the age of 19 are shot every day in the United States, resulting in 2,900 deaths and 14,500 injuries each year. Folks, these are kids that we’re talking about.”

Stephen Gutowski of The Reload, one of the nation’s leading news sites on gun policy, says the idea has already been tried.

“Ammunition background checks are extremely uncommon throughout the country given their redundant nature since gun sales at licensed dealers already require background checks,” Gutowski said. “California is one of the few states that require background checks for ammo purchases.

“And it’s very unlikely that a proposal like this will go anywhere in the Pennsylvania legislature,” he added.

Haywood and Kane called the ID bill “common sense requirement to protect children and all Pennsylvanians from gun violence. This legislation would require all individuals to provide an official form of photographic identification with every purchase of firearm ammunition in the commonwealth. In addition, it would reinforce current law to ensure that firearm ammunition is not sold to underage children.”

Stoker said that most stores already have an ID policy to buy ammunition.

“The stores protect themselves by requiring ID already,” he said. “It’s beyond redundant. If the law is already on the books, why do we need another one?

“We know the vast majority of crimes in Pennsylvania are perpetrated by the same offenders over and over again,” Stoker continued. “Why don’t we do something about that instead of going after the grandpa that wants to take his gun out with his grandson and teach him how to hunt deer?”

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