Beset by a startling 31 murders in 25 days, Mayor Michael Nutter and city officials unveiled a plan yesterday to crack down on violent crime by going after the one thing in Philadelphia more prolific than potholes: illegal guns.
The main focus of Nutter's approach is to push judges for at least two years of jail time for anybody convicted of carrying an illegal handgun. Those who help police recover an illegal handgun will also receive a $500 reward under the plan.
"Got a gun, go to jail. No more slaps on the wrist, no more falling through the cracks, no more walking away and thinking nothing's going to happen," Nutter said, surrounded by city and state lawmakers at Strawberry Mansion High School.
Normally those prosecuted in Philadelphia for carrying illegal guns are given probation. District Attorney Seth Williams said prosecutors would indeed ask for stiffer penalties and work with other law enforcement agencies to track the city's most dangerous criminals.
Some gun-reform groups applauded the move.
"If there are no penalties for carrying an illegal gun, they won’t think twice before sticking one in their pants when they walk outside," said Max Nacheman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a statewide anti-gun violence advocacy organization.
"What we think is really exciting is you now have the mayor’s office, the D.A.’s office, the police department – they’re all committed. And now it's up to judges to do their part and give penalties worthy of carrying an illegal gun in our city."
Nutter said he's talked with judges, but would not say whether there are on board with the plan. "They read the newspapers like everyone else," he said.
For every murder, there's a reward
For the first time ever, police will offer a reward for every murder conviction, which they hope will encourage community members to speak up.
"I think there are going to be some people who wouldn't otherwise come forward. [But] I don't think the flood gates are going to open," said Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross.
In some cases, the reward will be as much as $20,000. A police spokesman yesterday could not say if there would be a minimum.
Last week, police arrested three people in connection to the beating death of a Temple University student in Old City after a $20,000 reward was posted.
There are seven main initiatives of the plan:
1. Seek jail time for those convicted of possessing illegal guns.
2. Double funding for the witness assistance fund.
3. Offer rewards of up to $20,000 for a murder arrest and conviction.
4. An anonymous text hotline for residents to contact police.
5. Monitor the movement of the city's most violent criminals through the justice system.
6. Put about 100 more officers on the street.
7. Put more pressure on nuisance bars.