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.