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SEPTA Crime Is More Than a Statistic for DelVal Commuters

While SEPTA passengers worry about crime on the public transit system, SEPTA employees face ongoing dangers.

Otis Barnes, who’s been a SEPTA bus driver for nearly three decades, has been assaulted by a violent passenger twice – first on June 19 and again on Nov. 30, 2023. Dangerous passengers have also attacked some of his coworkers.

“There was a detour that day in June, and this passenger didn’t like it,” Barnes said. “He was making terroristic threats. He spit on me and another co-worker who was there. It wasn’t the first time he caused problems on the route. He never pays the fare, by the way, which is common in these incidents. I told the Control Center I couldn’t pick him up anymore and that this person was an ongoing problem. After the spitting incident, (he) got physical.”

According to Barnes, the same passenger spat on Barnes again on Nov. 30 and ran off the vehicle.

“He ran off the bus, and I went after him,” said Barnes. “I threw some punches. He got back on the bus and got physical with a passenger, a father who had his child with him. This father overpowered him. To my knowledge, this man who harasses my passengers has never been arrested. He still tries to get on the bus but I won’t let him onboard. I see him at least once a week.

“I know co-workers who have been physically assaulted,” said Barnes. “One was punched in the face. Why? Because he was driving too slow. The second was punched for not stopping at a discontinued stop. I’ve been a driver for 29 years, and it hasn’t always been like this. It’s escalating. These violent passengers can say or do whatever they want because they know there are no serious consequences. Operators have always been threatened, but now it’s not just a threat.”

On Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, a passenger shot and killed bus operator Bernard Gribben, 48. He was shot six times in the chest and abdomen allegedly by Zhontay Capers, 21. Police charged Capers with murder and related offenses.

“I never thought something like that could happen,” said Barnes. “His death affected a lot of my co-workers. Some just break down and cry over it. You see, the threats aren’t just threats anymore. These violent passengers are saying, You can get what your colleague got’– meaning what happened to Bernard.

“Will this new law, Act 40, make a difference? I think so, especially if it’s advertised on vehicles and station stops,” he added. “People have to know there are serious consequences for their actions, and right now, many of them don’t think that there are.”

In December 2023, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed Act 40 into law. The bipartisan legislation is meant to address what some lawmakers see as District Attorney Larry Krasner’s “systemic record of failing to prosecute assaults on victims.” The law would divert prosecution of some criminal cases on SEPTA vehicles, and transit stops to a special prosecutor. However, so far, Attorney General Michelle Henry has not appointed a special prosecutor, and Krasner opposes the new law.

“This dereliction of duty has cast a negative light on Philadelphia and the commonwealth, which has significantly impacted safety and ridership,” said state Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Cambria) when the Senate approved the bill. “The working families, students, and visitors of Philadelphia are in dire need of prosecutorial solutions, and my legislation will help restore law and order on SEPTA’s buses, trolleys, trains, and stations.”

On January 11, Krasner filed a lawsuit against the state attorney general to block implementation of the law, calling it “an unprecedented assault on a locally elected official’s authority and the rights of voters” in an official statement.  

Yet in all of the abuse by Krasner and supporters on Act 40, there was not one mention of those victimized by violent crime while riding or waiting for buses, trolleys, or trains.

It wasn’t until a March 4 shooting at the Route 22 bus stop where a 17-year-old was killed and four people were wounded, including two other teens, that Krasner finally said anything about the victims. Instead, when interviewed by Lauren Mayk on NBC10’s Battleground Politics, he repeatedly referred to it as the erasure of votes and a war on democracy. He repeatedly tried to make it a racial issue. 

However, a recent string of deadly incidents of SEPTA riders, many of them juveniles, is spurring city leaders to take much-needed action. But will this result in aggressive policies and prosecution against violent criminals?

“Krasner’s argument that the new law is disenfranchising voters and trying to circumvent his authority is specious at best,” said former Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams. “The focus should be on the victims of violent crime. The lawmakers in Harrisburg are trying to get around a district attorney who is not prosecuting,” Williams said. “Someone has to stand up for the victims. Members of the General Assembly are trying to ensure riders and employees are safe. It is the certainty of accountability that deters criminals.”

In an interview with Mayk, Shapiro said the new law doesn’t strip Krasner of prosecutorial powers or disenfranchise Philadelphia voters.

“It’s concurrent jurisdiction, something that already exists. We are not taking away power. We are adding law enforcement resources,” said Shapiro.

The recent violence includes a  Feb. 26 attack on a man by a violent criminal known to law enforcement on the 8th and Market Street subway platforms. The perpetrator, now under arrest again, was out on bail for attempted murder.

On March 6, eight juveniles were wounded by gunfire at the Rising Sun and Cottman Avenues bus stop. One victim, a 16-year-old boy, was shot nine times. The next day, a 37-year-old man was shot and killed on the Route 79 bus.

For men have been arrested for the March 6 shooting. An arrest was also made in the March 7 shooting that took the life of a 17-year-old. Investigators say the two shootings might be connected.

Former assistant district attorney Carlos Vega said Act 40 critics ignore the fact that a Democratic governor signed the new law.

“Krasner and the rest of them can say what they want about it being an attack on democracy. But the fact that the bill passed with bipartisan support is a clear example of democracy at work,” he said. “It was debated in Harrisburg. There were hearings. Republicans, as well as Democrats, voted for it. Act 40 was a bipartisan push that a democratic governor signed off on. Violent crime is skyrocketing because of Krasner. SEPTA riders don’t have the option of working from home. This law is an additional safeguard for prosecuting violent criminals and protecting riders and SEPTA employees. It’s a deterrence. Krasner is in his second term. He sees the statistics; he knows what’s happening. But he doesn’t care.”

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OPINION: Want to Secure Our Communities? Start With the Border

The horrific murder of Laken Riley in Georgia has hit a nerve for many Americans who are already concerned about the border crisis.

Jose Ibarra, a Venezuelan national who illegally crossed the southern border in September of 2022 has been charged with murdering 22-year-old Riley while she was out on a run. Any murder is a tragedy. But the murder of a U.S. citizen by an illegal immigrant shocks the conscience because it represents an unacceptable breakdown in law and order. Simply put, this murder was preventable, if only our government enforced all our immigration laws.

During his recent State of the Union Address, President Biden painted himself as a man ready to tackle border security on day one. If only he had. Then violent individuals like Ibarra would’ve been swiftly detained and removed. But because of our broken border and overwhelmed immigration courts, Ibarra was processed, released, and allowed to roam freely. And that put a dangerous individual in Laken Riley’s path.

But the people Border Patrol apprehends aren’t even our greatest concern.  Our border is so overwhelmed by migrants claiming humanitarian relief that our agents spend most of their time processing them. Border Patrol agents didn’t sign up to do asylum paperwork – they signed up to protect us.

And because they can’t, over 1.7 million southern border crossers have evaded apprehension since President Biden took office. We don’t know anything about these people except that they want to avoid detection. Are they all bad? Unlikely. Are some violent criminals? Almost certainly.

Securing our communities starts at the border. This is the message that the Americans for Prosperity Foundation has articulated repeatedly during our numerous border trips and border security events hosted with state chapters of Americans for Prosperity. While the national narrative concentrates on border states, areas further from the U.S.-Mexico border need to understand the problem too. Without proper border security every town becomes a border town, every state becomes a border state.

How do we secure the border? Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin said it best in his interview for a recent Congressional report:

“[W]hat I’ve seen in my career is that we always need that combination of things. You’ve probably heard me talk quite a bit about technology, infrastructure, and personnel. And so nothing by itself works. The personnel by itself, there will never be enough of us to do this. A border wall system by itself won’t work. The technology, you have to have– somebody put hands on somebody.” (emphasis added)

Border walls are effective in urban areas where crossers can vanish in seconds. On the other hand, walls aren’t particularly helpful in a remote area, like Big Bend National Park, where it might take days to reach the nearest highway or city. There, technology like drones and sensors to detect illegal migrant activity is crucial.

Something that is often lost when we talk about the border wall is that it isn’t a stand-alone entity. It was part of a system based on Border Patrol’s requirements. It comes with high-powered lights, motion sensors, and long-range cameras. That’s what made Biden’s abrupt cancellation of Trump’s border wall so damaging. Border Patrol wasn’t merely losing a wall; they were also losing other tools to apprehend illegal crossers.

Walls and technology, while very important, have, of course, never made an apprehension. That’s why you’ll always need personnel. But it’s been difficult to hire, and even more difficult to retain good personnel. After peaking at 21,444 in FY 2011, the number of Border Patrol agents dropped to 19,536 in FY 2021. Enticing and retaining personnel is difficult because of the isolated work locations, negative public perception of Border Patrol agents, and because those with higher degrees can find more lucrative work in other occupations.

A strong border is not a panacea to all that ails this great country, but it’s necessary for a stronger and safer U.S.

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HOWELL: To Stop Philadelphia Violence, Mentors Need to Step Up for Troubled Youth

Our city of Philadelphia is known to be called “Killadelphia,” a slang reference to the city of Brotherly Love due to its high murder rate. That is not a good name to be known by in our 2020 decade era. Our politicians have to do way more to change Philadelphia’s narrative and reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America.

I agree with Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker’s 100-day action plan focusing on public safety, clean and green, housing, economic opportunity, education, and roundtables (business, faith-based, and intergovernmental). More specifically, hiring 300 additional foot and bike patrol officers to walk a beat in every neighborhood of the city, getting to know the community they’re sworn to protect and serve without any tolerance for misuse or abuse of their power.

But still, to this day, almost every day, a shooting is reported in our city of Philadelphia, and it is astounding that this still happens today compared to the 1990s to now. It is also not just Philadelphia. It is our surrounding Delaware Valley, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties.

The crime rate seems to be increasing due to what is being reported in the news media lately, such as juvenile thefts, drug possession, gun possession, and domestic violence. The drug epidemic, including opioids plus fentanyl, we as civilians in Pennsylvania are all witnessing is entirely out of control. Even our youth starting at such a young age with vapes and electronic cigarettes is disappointing. Smoking does not have to be the only way to relieve stress and try to escape reality.

More funds must be allocated to our police departments across southeastern Pennsylvania to provide more resources to stop this lawbreaking. Focusing on the youth, they need more attention than ever before. When youth are out on the streets committing crimes, shooting, robbing, and selling drugs, all they need is just more in-depth mentorship.

There are plenty of leaders who are of color who can be mentors to all these troubled youth. But the youth have to listen to them. Patience is the key. In this era we live in now, we are trying too hard to be competitive, and social media attention is ridiculous.

There are a lot of organizations out there that are already doing so, but more needs to be emphasized. More constructive solutions from all organizations providing youth mentors need to be established.

In my perspective, if you take guns out of homes, then the murder rate will go down substantially.

House Bill 777 will help significantly with gun violence. On January 17, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee approved putting the bill in place. The bill closes a loophole in state law to prohibit the production or sale of “ghost gun” components. Either sold separately or in kits that are easily accessed and assembled to make a gun, these parts lack serial numbers and are untraceable in future investigations. Ghost guns are a way for people who are not legally allowed to possess a firearm to evade detection and background checks. Our civilians have to stop this senseless violence crisis.

Making Philadelphia the safest, cleanest, and greenest big city in the nation, with economic opportunity for all, has not been nearly done yet. Many would agree, especially in our senior citizen age range, that nothing changed in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Technology has advanced through the years, but the crime rate is still rising.

Lastly, there needs to be more resources for mental health services. With all this gun violence going on, schools, jobs, and all religious establishments should offer more mental healthcare options because you never know what is going on with someone. There is a lot of divide in America nowadays due to most citizens’ political views. This anger has to stop, and only our police forces and politicians can do that.

It is a shame that generation after generation is experiencing crime and gun violence at such a high level. It is a continuous toxic cycle we are experiencing with crime, drugs, and gun violence, and it needs to be put to an end. But some of us still believe that some things will never change.

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Point: America’s Murder Rate Dropped Historically — but Not in All States; Here’s Why

For another point of view, see: “Counterpoint: More Guns Don’t Equal More Crime”

Following an alarming national spike in violent crime over the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, in 2023, we saw the largest one-year decline in murder rates in modern U.S. history. However, this remarkable drop hasn’t been felt evenly across the country — and states with the weakest gun laws are seeing the least progress.

If we want to avoid needless death and devastation like our nation has already experienced this new year, we’ve got to follow the data and pass stronger gun safety laws in every state.

We’re an increasingly divided country, and not just politically. Analyzing 2023 Gun Violence Archive data shows firearm homicides fell much faster in states with the strongest gun laws, while states with the weakest gun laws saw marginal improvements to public safety, if any. Of the 300 largest U.S. cities, those in states with the strongest gun laws experienced 19.4 percent fewer gun homicides in 2023 compared to the previous year, while cities in states with the weakest gun laws saw only 5.1 percent fewer gun homicides.

When it comes to gun violence, we’re now seeing two different scenarios play out. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Ohio recently passed permitless carry laws, meaning that in most U.S. states, almost anyone can now carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit. On this side of America, such laws are resulting in increased violent crime, firearm robberies and mass shootings while also making it harder for law enforcement to solve cases. Still, some elected officials continue to buy the gun lobby lie that more guns make us safer, putting politics over people.

On the other side of America, states that already have strong gun laws are continuing to bolster their public health approach to gun safety. Last year, Illinois passed an assault weapons ban, New York increased access to victim compensation and services for gun violence survivors, and Maryland now requires gun owners to secure their firearms around children.

Elections matter — this past year Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed key gun bills into law after voters elected gun safety majorities in both legislative chambers.

Strong gun laws save lives. Not a single state that received an A grade for gun law strength from the Giffords Law Center last year saw an increase in their gun homicide rate in 2023. Colorado saw a 19 percent reduction in gun homicides last year. Rather than become complacent, the state legislature passed additional life-saving laws, including raising the minimum age to purchase guns, enacting waiting periods, and increasing access to justice for survivors. Colorado was the most improved state on Giffords gun law rankings, moving from a B to an A-minus.

Conversely, Mississippi suffered a 13 percent increase in gun homicides in 2023. Yet, the legislature passed dangerous laws incentivizing teachers to carry guns in schools and preventing agencies from maintaining gun records.

The disparity deepens further in cities since many have established local offices and leveraged federal funds to invest in community violence intervention programs. Chicago, Milwaukee, New York and Philadelphia invested heavily in violence prevention, and these efforts coincided with double-digit declines in 2023. Of the 10 cities with the biggest year-to-year declines in gun homicide rates, seven are in states with a gun law grade of A-minus or higher.

Still, gun violence remains higher overall than before the pandemic hit — and there are significant threats to these hard-fought gains. Our extreme right-wing Supreme Court could roll back critical state and federal gun laws that have protected American lives for decades, like the ability to disarm domestic abusers and regulate machine guns. States with progressive gun violence reduction programs need to follow California’s lead and get creative when it comes to funding these vital programs to avoid a dangerous fiscal cliff when American Rescue Plan Act funds expire.

The data clearly demonstrate that strong gun safety laws save lives when we’re willing to invest in them — yet some states still stubbornly cling to the false idea that looser gun laws mean more safety. A historic drop in violence now presents America with an opportunity to spearhead a holistic national approach to curbing gun violence. Still, we need every state to get on board and invest in gun safety for gains to be felt evenly. As 2024 has already shown, we can’t afford to wait any longer.

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Counterpoint: More Guns Don’t Equal More Crime

For another viewpoint see: “Point: America’s Murder Rate Dropped Historically — but Not in All States; Here’s Why”

There may be no tenet of faith so fundamental to the cult of gun control than the idea that more guns equate to more crime — a theory that was soundly disproven in 2023. Just four years after the biggest recorded one-year spike in our nation’s homicide rate, it looks as if the United States may have just gone through the biggest one-year decline, an impossibility according to gun control activists.

There are millions more guns around than there were four years ago, yet the vast majority of cities reported fewer homicides than they did in 2020. That includes several cities where permitless carry recently took effect. Atlanta reported a 22 percent decline in murders. Toledo, Ohio, saw a 34 percent drop in the homicide rate, almost identical to the 33 percent decline in Oklahoma City. The mayor of Miami boasted that the city had the fewest homicides since 1947, even though gun-control activists predicted the state’s permitless carry law would lead to more violence when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law last year.

Those same advocates also asserted that the demise of “may issue” concealed carry laws, which required applicants to demonstrate a justifiable need to have a firearm in self-defense, would also lead to more dangerous cities. There’s no evidence that the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen had any detrimental effect on public safety last year. Indeed, in the first full year that “shall issue” concealed carry was in place, Baltimore recorded fewer than 300 homicides for the first time in nearly a decade. At the same time, Los Angeles and New York saw 10 percent declines, even as more citizens were lawfully carrying firearms in self-defense.

Meanwhile, some of the most gun-controlled locales in the country saw their violence grow worse last year while it remained stagnant in many others. For instance, the District of Columbia reported the most murders in more than two decadesBridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut, saw double-digit increases in homicide, with New Haven’s murders spiking by almost 65 percent. Seattle witnessed a 20 percent rise in the number of homicides, while the number of murders in Oakland, Calif., and San Francisco were almost unchanged from 2022.

The truth is that most U.S. cities had fewer murders last year regardless of the amount of gun-control laws in place. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given the local nature of violent crime, which is typically driven by fewer than 1 percent of a city’s population and who are already well-known to local police and the criminal justice system. The most effective crime-fighting strategies are those that target the most likely and prolific offenders, which means that gun-control laws aimed at legal gun owners are wildly off-target.

Those strategies vary wildly from city to city, just like their crime rates. And their effectiveness depends far more on the individuals guiding those programs than any legislation signed into law by a governor. Take Kansas City and St. Louis, which operate under the same Missouri gun laws but saw the number of homicides veer off in different directions last year, increasing by 7 percent in Kansas City while dropping by more than 20 percent in St. Louis.

Gun-control advocates may want to point at Kansas City’s woes while ignoring the progress made in St. Louis, but if we’re serious about improving public safety, we need an honest accounting of what’s working, what isn’t, and yes, what can be done without infringing on the fundamental right to armed self-defense. The data are telling us that more guns don’t equal more crime, but unfortunately, the gun control lobby and their allies in elected office don’t seem to be listening.

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GIORDANO: The Heart of the City

Widely different views of Philadelphia’s future came into focus last week.

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker and District Attorney Larry Krasner held major press conferences with widely divergent approaches to fighting crime.

Parker announced that Pedro Rosario, a Philadelphia Police captain in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, was elevated to the rank of deputy commissioner, and his sole mission will be to police Kensington. This is a much-needed signal that Parker is going to bring a methodical and determined approach to the shame of Kensington. She said several times on my show that she has compassion for those addicted to drugs, but Kensington will not be an open-air drug market on her watch.

On the other hand, Krasner’s press conference was dedicated to his opposition to the new state law, Act 40. It requires the Pennsylvania attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor who would have the power to prosecute crimes that happen on SEPTA or in the general area of their stations. The intent is not to take away Krasner’s power to prosecute but to add a prosecutor who will enforce laws that Krasner ignores or does not fully charge. This bill had the support of many Democrats in Harrisburg and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Krasner and his supporters said this law suppresses democracy in Philadelphia, and they blamed former President Donald Trump’s influence on Republicans in Harrisburg. Krasner also claimed that his philosophy and methods still have overwhelming support in Philadelphia.

I would challenge that assertion. If Krasner still had that kind of support, then former City Councilperson and Krasner favorite Helen Gym would have beaten Parker in the Democratic primary for mayor. Instead, Parker won because people in many minority neighborhoods in Philadelphia wanted an all-out effort against lawlessness.

The arena where Parker and Krasner will first lock horns is over retail theft. It is clear that Krasner will not prosecute shoplifting under $500. It’s clear that even if the items stolen are over $500, Krasner will not do much about it. This policy has led, in some cases, to a lack of effective police response to these crimes and some businesses, such as Wawa, to either leave Philadelphia or scale back their presence.

Parker and newly-appointed Police Commissioner Kevin J. Bechtel are going to fully prosecute these crimes and periodically inform the public of arrests. They will challenge the Krasner narrative that the police are not doing their job. I believe this is a crime that infuriates people, and they want it to be a police priority.

The secret sauce for Parker on Kensington drug crimes and retail theft is community engagement. She and police officials will meet extensively with communities and will incorporate their ideas. She also will institute massive cleanup campaigns across the city.

Parker does not shy away from a fight.

However, it’s unlikely that Krasner will change his methods. He believes his policies are the best way to lead Philadelphia out of some of the worst poverty in the country. He still has great support in largely progressive neighborhoods that are somewhat insulated from the worst of crime. Some of his base is even excited by the grand experiment he is conducting.

Parker’s targeting of Kensington through engagement and enforcement is the model to use to diminish Krasner’s destructive capabilities. If she can make it work in Kensington, she can make it work anywhere.

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SOLOMON: New Philadelphia Mayor Sets Sights on Crime

In her first hours on the job, Cherelle Parker, the new mayor of Philadelphia, has outlined a platform that prioritizes addressing crime and improving law enforcement.

On Parker’s first day in office, she declared, in an executive order, a state of emergency on crime. Parker declared a citywide public safety emergency, directing the Police Department to develop comprehensive plans to address crime across the city.

This action is no surprise given Parker’s election platform, built on her commitment to tackling the pressing issue of crime and public safety.

This executive order calls for a report from the police commissioner within 30 days outlining a plan to reduce crime levels. The mayor’s supporters will undoubtedly view the executive action as highlighting her commitment to prioritizing public safety and firmly demonstrating her intent to tackle the challenges promptly and proactively.

Parker’s planned response to gun violence includes a focus on more policing and the reintroduction of stop-and-frisk. Before the election, Parker expressed the need for a high-quality law enforcement leader who could change the culture of the police department, emphasizing the importance of reform, empowering good officers, and standing up to the police union.

Parker has been supportive of law enforcement, indicating a willingness to consider controversial practices and change tactics.

The mayor’s platform is aimed at striking a balance between empowering the police to do their job and addressing the concerns of the community.

Through the declaration of a public safety emergency and the stress on the importance of comprehensive plans for crime prevention, Parker has indicated a prominent emphasis on law enforcement and community safety as central elements of her agenda. The executive order serves as a guide for her governance approach and initiates a sequence of measures designed to enhance public safety.

The best-case scenario is that the mayor’s emphasis on reducing crime and improving public safety would shift in the Philadelphia Police Department’s operational strategy toward a more proactive and community-oriented approach.

Civil rights groups have raised concerns about excessive policing and its effect on certain communities. The reintroduction of stop-and-frisk, a controversial practice known for its disproportionate effect on minority communities, has raised red flags.

After her election, Parker hinted at increasing police presence and potentially relaxing employment requirements. However, the potential of increasing police presence and relaxing employment requirements has sparked concerns about the risk of over-policing and the need to ensure that law enforcement practices are conducted to respect civil rights and avoid discriminatory outcomes.

Civil rights groups have historically emphasized the need for effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms to address police misconduct and ensure that law enforcement practices are in line with civil rights standards. Parker’s order is likely to amplify the concerns, emphasizing the need to balance public safety measures and safeguarding civil rights while promoting equitable and community-centered policing practices.

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LUCAS: Voting Fraud Is Widespread

The 2020 election involved a criminal voter fraud scheme with mass absentee ballots and phony voter registrations, according to the Justice Department and the New Jersey attorney general.

This verdict and indictment happened in 2023. Prosecutors in Massachusetts and New York brought election fraud charges in the closing weeks of December.

The Justice Department secured a guilty verdict against a congressional candidate’s spouse  — Kim Phuong Taylor — from a federal jury in November in Sioux City, Iowa, on 52 counts regarding causing absentee ballots to be fraudulently requested and cast that occurred in two elections. Her husband, Jeremy Taylor, ran unsuccessfully in the 2020 Republican primary for the U.S. House in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, then successfully in the general election to be re-elected as a Woodbury County supervisor.

In late October, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced Paterson City Council President Alex Mendez is facing more charges in his election fraud case stemming from his 2020 race. He was previously indicted in 2021 regarding actions in the election. The attorney general’s office alleges Mendez personally collected ballots and oversaw the fraudulent mailing of ballots while members of his campaign stole ballots from residential mailboxes and discarded several that did not cast a vote for their candidate. He had three alleged co-conspirators in the case.

As explained in my book “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” election fraud cases are more easily detectable in some states than others. And far too often, remedies to curb absentee ballot fraud are unfairly smeared.

Some high-profile stories have prompted Democratic politicians and much of the media to trot out their talking point that voter fraud is a farce. Another talking point is that those rascally red states are prosecuting election fraud cases as a means to infringe on voting rights.

But in the last quarter of 2023, indictments or adjudicated court cases occurred in various states.

On Dec. 21 in Lawrence, Mass., City Councilor-elect Fidelina Santiago and an ally were indicted on charges including illegal voting, conspiracy to vote illegally, and obstruction of voting, WBZ CBS News Boston reported. The charges, brought by Essex County District Attorney Paul Tucker, stem from the November 2023 election after first being reported by the Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin’s office.

Also, just days before Christmas in Queens, New York, a 32-year-old man was indicted on charges of casting 20 falsified absentee ballots in the Democratic primary in 2022, Fox News reported. Queens County District Attorney Melinda Katz emphasized: “Every vote has to count. Election integrity is the foundation of a viable, working democracy.” The Queens man faces 140 charges. Beyond casting fake ballots, prosecutors say the man obtained approval for 32 out of 118 ballot applications.

Among the most high-profile cases is one in Bridgeport, Conn., where some of the alleged fraud from the September Democratic mayoral primary seemed to have been caught on camera. This led Mayor Joe Ganim — who served time on a previous public corruption conviction when he was mayor of the city about two decades earlier — to accept full responsibility, WSHU reported.

Ganim, however, said he wasn’t aware that a Democratic operative was allegedly stuffing ballots into a drop box outside Bridgeport City Hall and caught on camera in the act. A state judge tossed Ganim’s primary victory a week before the November general election, calling the evidence of fraud “shocking.”

A Texas state appeals court overturned the result of a Laredo City Council race, ruling that Ricardo Rangel Jr. was the rightful winner of a 2022 election. This came after the alleged involvement of city police officers in casting illegal votes, the Laredo Morning Times reported.

These legal cases highlight how voter fraud can be committed, emphasizing the critical need for robust election integrity laws.

The prosecutions and convictions brought within the last three months — ranging from illegal voting and ballot tampering to fraudulent registration — underscore the vulnerabilities in the electoral system.

As these cases unfold, they underscore the importance of continuous efforts to strengthen election laws and protect the vote as we move into 2024 — enabling us to safeguard the democratic foundations of the United States.

BAKER: Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Does Not Do as Advertised

In June 2022, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law. This legislation was due to the presumed need for further legislation after the outcry to curtail gun violence and mass shootings. Those on the left have for years been screaming for more gun-control legislation, and those on the right have sought refuge in the Second Amendment. This legislation was the common ground for both sides of the aisle.

Among the signature features of this bill was the funding for mental health services in the form of the following:

—$250 million over four years to provide states with flexible funding to create community mental health services through the SAMHSA Community Mental Health Block Grant program.

—$240 million over four years to assist students with mental health disorders and educate school personnel on mental health disorders through SAMHSA’s Project AWARE.

—$150 million to implement the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

—$120 million over four years for SAMHSA to train first responders engaging with individuals with mental disorders.

—$80 million over four years to facilitate cooperation between pediatric primary care providers and mental health specialists.

—$60 million over five years to train pediatric primary care physicians in mental healthcare through the HRSA Primary Care Training and Enhancement Program.

—$40 million over four years to assist children who have experienced traumatic events through SAMHSA’s National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

On the surface, this looks like needed funding. However, it is not pertinent to gun control. What makes it worse is the expanded infrastructure and increased criminalization provisions such as:

—$750 million over five years for Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program crisis prevention programs. This sum is allocated to states to support creating and maintaining crisis intervention programs for state courts, including red flag law programs and mental health courtdrug court or veterans court programs.

—$300 million over five years to fund provisions of the STOP School Violence Act.

—$250 million over five years for community violence intervention programs.

—$200 million over five years for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

—$100 million to fund FBI expenses.

As good as these provisions may sound, in reality, community intervention programs adversely affect minority communities. In a recent study by the Department of Education, Black students are 2.3 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement or subjected to a school-related arrest than their White counterparts. Even further, school-age Black females are six times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions for disciplinary issues than their White female classmates.

Throwing money at a problem has never solved the problem, as history teaches us time and again. Students of color have historically been marginalized and have experienced school discipline at disproportionate levels than their counterparts of other ethnic groups. For already targeted groups, the added layers of surveillance and law enforcement interaction lead to the worst-case scenarios of increased discipline and decreased graduation rates. All this leads to increased contact with the criminal justice system, which leads to diminished attendance rates, fewer persons of color attending post-secondary education and increased minority levels in adult prisons. This is not how to make communities safer.

While we applaud the need to address mental health issues, sadly legislation like this puts more focus on “fixing” it too far down the line. According to the National Center for State Courts, jails on all levels have become the largest providers of mental health services across the country. Fixing mental health in jails and prisons, while laudable, is not an area of expertise for already overworked and under-compensated correctional officers, many of whom may also be under their own mental and physical health issues because of their chosen vocation.

Accredited mental health institutions and their trained professionals must take the lead early and often and — if need be — intervene where the courts and correctional systems have failed.

The path to safety starts with education. It starts with rebuilding broken families. It begins with making a concerted effort to invest in our youth through efforts to uplift their dreams and support them in those dreams. It starts with communities relying on evidence-based strategies instead of arbitrary incarceration without due process of law.

Instead of overreaching legislation, we must allow law enforcement officers to do what they are trained and mandated to do: arrest those violating the law. We must have prosecutors who are not afraid to prosecute those bad actors, regardless of public outcry or opinion. We must restore the ability of families to regain their rightful role in the upbringing of children. We must reverse this devastating trend of fatherless homes that were created after the destructive government-initiated War on Poverty. We must encourage fathers and other positive role models to engender positive actions in our youths instead of the negative role models we see prevalent in society that lead to bad lifestyle choices, which can and do lead to lawlessness.

Until those issues are addressed, the Safer Communities Act does not deliver as advertised.

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Delco GOP Candidates Hold Town Hall on Crime in Upper Darby

A new Franklin & Marshall poll shows that the third most important issue for Pennsylvanians is crime.

Republican candidates running for Delaware County and Upper Darby offices held a town hall meeting at American Legion Post 214 about crime Wednesday evening. About 65 residents attended, although several complained about landlord/tenant issues, saying the township is not enforcing its codes against absentee “slum lords.”

Beth Stefanide-Miscichowski, who is running for district attorney against incumbent DA Jack Stollsteimer, spoke first.

“I’m pretty passionate about championing the rights of individuals who need support, who are underprivileged, under-served. I’m incredibly passionate about that. That’s what I’ve done my entire career,” said Stefanide-Miscichowski.

“Crime is up in Delaware County for (2022) the last full year 25.5 percent,” she said. For 2023, crime is “on a trajectory to be even higher.”

And “Upper Darby is seeing a rise in crime. They’re specifically seeing a rise in murder and nonnegligent manslaughter cases,” Stefanide-Miscichowski said.  “Your five-year average for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter is four. You’re on track for 2023 to double that rate…But you’ve had a 75 percent uptick in murders in the last five years. If that isn’t bad enough, you’re actually on track to have a higher per capita murder rate than the city of Philadelphia.”

Council President Brian Burke talks to Derrick Neal.

Council President Brian Burke, who is running for mayor, said all 11 council members voted on ordinances to put $13.5 million of federal ARPA funds to work. But Mayor Barbarann Keffer refuses to release the checks for much-needed projects, such as firehouse repairs, hiring new police officers and “we need police officers on the street.  We need police officers around our schools.”

“It’s very dangerous,” said Burke. “Two months ago, I was in the Secane area speaking to a young student who was shot. He blew us all away. He talked to us for 10 minutes. He was shot in the head. His friends were scared of the school.”

“Two weeks ago, at the bottom of the hill at 69th Street, a young man grabbed me and started talking to me. He wants metal detectors. He wants infrared. He wants K-9 dogs in our schools. It’s dangerous for these children to go to school in the middle school.”

“What happens today, if a 13-year-old shoots a 13-year-old for a pair of sneakers, where do they go? Nine hours in the police department, and then they’re released (because the county no longer has a juvenile detention center).”

“Our police officers do not have the tools to do their jobs,” said Burke. “My main concern is public safety. My second is recreation. We need places for our kids to go (and) for students to go after school. The school district and the township need to work together.”

Tina Hamilton, who runs Recovery Without Barriers, is campaigning for a council-at-large seat.  She said the police need to send addicts to her organization to get help.  And if there is a code blue for cold weather, they have beds for them.

“We can get help for the people who need it,” she said. “We can change lives, and we can change everybody’s by doing it.”

Jeff Jones, an Upper Darby resident running for county Council, said he’s helped Hamilton in her work over the years.

County Council candidate Jeff Jones speaks to a resident.

“County Council is ultimately the infrastructure that supports our communities,” said Jones. “Remember, we’ve moved to Delaware County, to Upper Darby, because we wanted to build a legacy. The schools at the time were good…Today, that legacy, that quality of life we saw, is diminished by reckless behavior.”

“The county government decided it would take over the prison. In that process, the DA’s office implemented its system of offering people not to go to jail by not prosecuting certain crimes…What I do believe in is a prison system that first and foremost protects its employees, the folks charged with keeping us safe, keeping those incarcerated safe and healthy.”

Corrections officers have said, “‘We don’t feel safe,’” he said. Jones said there should be a penalty and rehabilitation while someone is behind bars.

“What matters is service to the community and the people who live here,” he said.

After the candidates’ remarks, residents spoke up.

“I’m speaking with a passion now at the town hall,” said Rich Blye, commander of the Sons of the American Legion. “These problems started happening with our youth because you took away PAL (Police Athletic League).  The kids have no place to go. They started being book-bagged with the drugs. They started filling them with drugs, OK?”

“We have a turnstile type of justice,” Blye said. “Because I’m a father with a murdered son, so I know what I’m talking about…We need the PAL back…We need the district attorney’s office to help…We need all functions of the government to help.”

Beth Stefanide-Miscichowski at the Upper Darby town hall.

“Looking at the crime map, it’s coming this way,” said Andrea Mathis. “Businesses are not keeping up…look at the amount of trash and overflowing dumpsters. That draws the crime. That’s beyond blight. We have an ‘F’ rating for crime. That’s deplorable…We don’t have police officers patrolling on foot. We’re short-staffed…We don’t have the tools to address the dysfunction that is happening…We have a lot of renters (who) don’t keep up their property. They may bring in 10 others to help them (pay the) rent. It’s just out of hand. And nobody’s paying attention.”

Burke said that he’d called the code enforcement officers on her behalf. And Upper Darby Council directed ARPA money for streetscaping, but the mayor did not release it.”

He agreed that landlords need to be held accountable.

Hamilton said more oversight is needed to clean up the problems with negligent landlords.

“You should be able to reach out to a council member, and I promise you can reach out to me,” Hamilton said.

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