State leaders announced Thursday that they plan to give $50 million in federal funding to Philadelphia law enforcement, a major spending spree aimed at improving the city’s police and digital systems amid continued gun violence.
The money, left over from the federal government, will go to the Philadelphia Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, and SEPTA. Grants will allow each agency to greatly increase the size and scope of their forensic and intelligence labs, hire more staff, and invest in equipment they say will help solve crimes faster.
Gathered inside Mill Creek Playground, where middle school worker Tiffany Fletcher was shot and killed by a stray bullet this summer, city and state officials celebrated the planting, saying it will help the city seek justice for thousands of Philadelphians who have been convicted of gun crimes. violence.
“It is sad that when we are burdened by our neighbors who are subjected to violence, but it is even more painful if we are not able to solve these issues and we are not able to give them the peace that the people who are responsible are accountable,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton, a. The Philadelphia Democrat is expected to be nominated for House majority leader.
The Police Department will receive $25 million to upgrade its criminal prosecutions department, which city leaders have long said is understaffed and needs better technology to process evidence faster.
The money, which nearly doubled the forensic lab’s annual budget, will allow the department to hire 120 new employees and scientists, buy new equipment to process DNA, fingerprints, guns, and remove cell phone data, among other things. The department is in the early stages of planning to build a new crime lab. Mr. Mike Garvey, director of forensic science at the department, said the timing of this project is not yet clear, but this money will enable the police to start hiring and buying equipment.
The lab, which now has about 260 employees, is about one-third the size it should be, and is processing more evidence than ever before as the number of shootings increases, Garvey said. This year alone, Garvey said police are on track to seize more than 6,000 guns, up from 4,000 three years ago, and more than 50,000.
But there is a significant backlog in the evidence being processed, Garvey said, with rape cases often taking about 100 days to be processed, and other cases sometimes taking up to a year.
He compared himself to a person who went to the hospital for treatment, but instead of seeing a doctor, “you were put in isolation, and you sat in the corridor for a year, hoping that someone would treat you.”
The District Attorney’s Office will receive $20 million, allowing it to expand digital forensics and triple the size of the intelligence lab, which extracts cell phone data of suspects and monitors social media accounts of would-be shooters, among other things. The office will invest in new license-plate readers, more cameras, upgrade to crime equipment, and new staff.
Because witnesses and victims are often unwilling to cooperate and testify in a shooting case, prosecutors rely heavily on digital intelligence and video to secure crimes, said Bill Fritze, head of the DA’s Gun Violence Task Force.
“In an age where intimidation and the old fear of going to court is a big deal, think how far we’ve come in the future,” Fritze said.
In addition, SEPTA will receive $5 million, which it will use to install its ZeroEyes driver software, a technical inspection program that is said to detect gunfire within seconds of being fired. The grant will also support overtime pay for traffic police, and comes as violent crime across the transport sector has soared. From 2019 to 2021, robberies and aggravated assaults on the Philadelphia transit system increased by more than 80%.
While money is a small part of the city’s Police Department budget, 95 percent of the annual budget goes to employee salaries, and the department relies heavily on state and federal grants to meet other needs. Mr. Garvey said the department aims to find more grants and seek funding from the City Council to secure this funding and new staff.
This information comes as the problem of violence in the city continues. So far this year, 489 people have died by homicide — 8% lower than last year’s record-breaking number but still double the number recorded in 2014.
“Our cries have been heard,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.
The award comes from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and is part of the state’s funding for the American Rescue Plan, a federal fund intended to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat, said that by January, the state expects to announce $109 million in additional funding for other anti-violence organizations in Philadelphia.
Staff writer Anna Orso contributed to this article.