With 2012 having barely begun, Philadelphia homicide detectives are working on 31 new murder cases — a 10 percent increase from last year — and law enforcement officials are also concerned about the rising number of non-fatal shootings in the city. Some of those cases have been solved, others are waiting for more evidence to arrest suspects, and several of the new cases require reluctant witnesses to step up with information.
That’s not an easy thing to do in a city where thugs have easy access to illegal guns and use them indiscriminately.
Many of those concerns were expressed during a press conference on Thursday, when Mayor Michael Nutter announced expanded crime fighting efforts; this plan oriented around greater prevention and earlier intervention, more assistance on the federal level, and major rewards for information leading to the arrests and convictions of suspects wanted for any homicide committed in the city.
“There are a series of concrete measures we will be taking to make Philadelphia safer, and the kind of city we all want it to be,” Nutter said during a press conference at Strawberry Mansion High School. “There are three words that will be the context of what I’m talking about, prevention, intervention and collaboration. We have to send a message to every punk, every criminal and every person carrying an illegal weapon in this city. Got a gun? Go to jail. No more slaps on the wrists, no more falling through the cracks, no more walking away and thinking nothing is going to happen. Sections 6106 and 6108 of the Pennsylvania Crime Code provides that carrying an illegal firearm on public property or on the streets is either a first-degree misdemeanor or third-degree felony that results in sentences of five to seven years.
“Unfortunately in Philly this is not the case. Many of these defendants get probation. We need to protect our citizens, those who come forward and give us the information we need to solve crimes. So we will be doubling the funding of our witness assistance program to protect witnesses from that hateful ‘don’t snitch’ mentality.
“Also, as of today there is a standing reward for any information leading to the arrests and convictions of suspects wanted for murder, wanted for any homicide in the city. To every criminal out there, I just put a $20,000 bounty on your head. We’re coming for you, we will find you and people will give up that information.”
The mayor’s remarks follow an extraordinarily violent week in Philadelphia, where 8 people have been killed and several others wounded in gun violence. The mayor also said that there is a standing reward of $500 for the recovery of any illegal handgun. Police department statistics show that almost all of the homicides in Philadelphia are committed by individuals with police records carrying illegal firearms.
“We are pleased to see the mayor announcing decisive new action to crack down on the proliferation of illegal guns in the city,” said CeaseFirePA Board President Dan Muroff. “The proposals laid out today are a significant step in the right direction — and another example of cities desperately trying to take measures to stem the scourge of gun violence. Yesterday, the Violence Prevention Center in Washington D.C., issued a report identifying Pennsylvania as the state with the third highest rate of African-American homicide in the nation. It comes as no surprise that 85 percent of those homicides are committed with illegal firearms.”
Another major aspect of the amped-up crime fighting strategy involves a successful tactical initiative the police engaged in during 2009 and 2010 called Operation Pressure Point. Nuisance bars were closed and wanted fugitives were captured. Beginning in the spring and through the fall, teams of local, state and federal law enforcement officers will be hitting the streets again, hitting the criminals where it hurts
“Beginning in April and extending to October, Operation Pressure Point will be active again. It’s like this; active criminals, we know who you are and we’re going to find you,” Nutter said. “We’re coming for you.”
One of the homicides police are now investigating happened on Wednesday afternoon just after 2:30 p.m. in the 5600 block of Arch Street. The victim, identified as Rashan Mickens, 24, of the 7600 block of Brockton Road in Overbrook Park was pronounced dead at 3:00 p.m. at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. So far, no arrests have been made. Mickens was found inside a 2005 brown Jeep Cherokee with a gunshot wound to the stomach.
“We’ve spent several months identifying those areas of the city where there is the greatest concentration of gun violence, not just homicides, but robberies and other crimes committed with a gun,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “We’re not talking about infringing on Second Amendment rights, we’re not talking about law-abiding citizens who have legal permits to carry or legally own firearms. We’re going after the straw purchasers and illegal gun traffickers. We’re going after some people and groups who are so violent that we may need to go federal.”