LYNETT: Philadelphia DA’s Office Sheds Prosecutors, Crimes Go Unpunished
I used to believe in Larry Krasner. But after two and one-half years working for him, I left the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office disillusioned with his cavalier attitude toward prosecuting violent crime. Larry threw out the book on prosecution, but never bothered to read it. Now we are seeing the results of his go-it-alone strategy, which has led to a series of self-created crises impacting Philadelphians every day.
Seventy-five percent of all line prosecutors have departed on Larry’s watch—including over 30 percent of lawyers he hand-selected. These mass departures have hurt case outcomes because it takes time to understand the evidence and to build a working relationship with those involved—victims, witnesses, police, and defense attorneys.
Indeed, the data prove those departures have inhibited the office’s ability to effectively prosecute crime in the midst of record-breaking murders, shootings, and gun-related violence. In 2021, the office charged 6,491 “violent offenses.” Over 70 percent of those cases were dropped. One out of every four gun-involved murders was withdrawn, 40 percent of non-fatal shootings were dismissed, over 50 percent of attempted murders were tossed, and 60 percent of robberies with a deadly weapon were discharged. Thousands of victims went to the DA’s office seeking justice. Few received it.
Mass incarceration has given way to mass abdication.
To be clear: This is not a condemnation of a modern model of prosecution or the diligent line attorneys who remain. These holdouts struggle because Larry’s mission appears to embrace zero accountability—unless the accused is a police officer. In every instance where a cop is arrested, the case is referred to a dedicated, specialized unit, generally with a press release to match. If you happen to be the victim of crime and the accused is not a cop, however, no such luck.
These results are unsurprising. Once elected, Larry spent countless weeks on a nationwide tour disparaging law enforcement and the many dedicated prosecutors (including myself) who worked at the office before he graced us with his presence. He promised us safer streets because he was going to remake the “grade-B office” into an A+ team.
To do so, Larry openly admitted he was shunning local law schools and sought outsiders to join his own version of the “Serial” Podcast. In reality, his hires—many of whom I worked alongside—were stunned to learn they would be going to court five days a week and meeting with countless victims severely affected by violent crime. Being a prosecutor is difficult enough if you know the job; it is impossible if the sitting District Attorney sold you a false bill of goods.
Now, as reported by The Inquirer and The Legal Intelligencer, the office is suffering from a mass exodus. Line prosecutors are leaving in record numbers because our repeated requests to the administration—for more support staff, better technology, comprehensive training, and a focus on victim and witness outreach—go unanswered. And Larry’s recent moves inspire little confidence that things will change.
Specifically, he promoted a new chief of staff; unsurprisingly, it is someone who has never tried a case on behalf of the commonwealth. The new lateral hiring committee is composed entirely of people who have never prosecuted a case at the trial level. To this day he ignores the basic needs of prosecutors willing to try serious, violent cases. We are all now reaping what Larry has sowed.
In 2017, before Larry took office, there were 315 homicides, and 1,270 people shot in Philadelphia. Of those, 115 were children, 16 of whom died. Each and every year under Larry’s leadership those numbers have ballooned. People have gotten the message: The District Attorney has chosen to absent himself from the process.
Last year, 1,846 Philadelphians felt the burn of a bullet tearing through their flesh, and 562 people lost their lives on Larry’s watch. That included 231 children, 31 of whom died. Those numbers likely undercount the total, but it also omits the scores of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, relatives, and neighbors forced to pray at the side of a hospital bed or, worse still, visit at a cold granite memorial where their child, brother, sister, friend, or classmate used to be.
I suspect Larry’s response will be the same as before. First, he will say there’s no crime problem. Then he’ll claim his statements were taken out of context. Or if violent crime is a problem, it’s someone else’s fault, like the legislature or the NRA. When all else fails, he’ll throw up his hands and say it is part of a national trend.
All is not lost, however. Larry can acknowledge these legitimate concerns and strive toward a solution. He must because thousands of lives—and the quality of life for over a million and a half Philadelphians—hang in the balance.