Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams went before members of City Council on Tuesday requesting additional money to hire more prosecutors, and said that among the nation’s 22 largest counties, Philadelphia is the second lowest for funding for a prosecutor’s office.
Williams also said that underfunding is also an indication that murder rates are often higher where the funding is lower.
“It’s almost directly inversely proportional — the rate of funding to the rate of violent crime,” Williams said, adding that the latest statistics show the murder rate is up 9 percent. “Philadelphia has the second worst funding, and one of the highest murder rates. We find ourselves in the midst of unacceptable levels of violent crime. All types of violent crime have risen so far this year. As of April 15, there have been 102 homicides in the city. Aggravated assaults with guns are up 19 percent, and violent crime is up 4 percent. Philadelphia continues to fare much worse than the country as a whole, with murder and robbery rates four times the national average during 2009 and 2010.”
Right now the city’s budget allocates $31 million for the District Attorney’s office. That figure remains unchanged, Williams said, which essentially amounts to a budget cut. Taking into consideration the current budget constraints, he’s not asking for more new money, he believes, but that his department be returned a portion of the millions of dollars they’ve saved through new programs and initiatives over the last two years. Specifically, Williams is requesting an increase of $636,675 that would be used to hire 13 new assistant district attorneys.
The additional attorneys would free up seasoned assistant district attorneys to prosecute more violent offenders.
“Being able to hire them will permit me to have our more experienced prosecutors handle our increasing numbers of violent cases, especially homicides, non-fatal shootings and rapes,” Williams said.
As of May 2 there have been 114 murders in Philadelphia. One of the victims was Clarice Douglas of the 1500 block of Corlies Street. Douglas was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon when two young Black males began shooting at each other. Douglas, who was standing on her porch waiting for her children to come home from school, was struck several times.
One of the suspects was wounded and is under arrest but the second suspect, Shekinah Williams, remains at large. Williams, 28, from the 2100 block of Sears Street, has been incarcerated before. There is a $5,000 reward being offered for his arrest and conviction; $2,500 was donated by State Senator Anthony Williams and $2,500 from developer Mark Nicoletti.
“Regarding this recent shooting, we have one person being held and we recovered a gun. We have some direction on the second suspect. As for the other recent incidents, there could be a lot of things causing the violence in that part of town,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey regarding the investigation. “Basically, there is no shortage of thugs with guns who are not afraid to fire over any dispute.”
The district attorney echoed that sentiment at the budget hearing, and said one of the consistent problems that drive violent crime is the proliferation of illegal guns. Making it clear that law-abiding gun owners are not the problem, he said a new practice being used is asking high bail for those caught with illegal firearms.
“St. Louis began this practice last year and quickly cut its homicide rate by about 20 percent,” Williams said. “It is unlikely that most individuals caught carrying an illegal weapon will be able to post high bail. Therefore, they will remain in prison until their trial. Regardless of the verdict and sentence they receive, these offenders will already have served several months of incarceration. Both they and their criminal acquaintances will have seen and witnessed the new reality — if you carry an illegal gun you will be incarcerated, full stop. Moreover, in these cases we will almost always ask for prison time and no probation.”