February 10, 2014: In April of 2013, the District Attorney’s Office along with the Philadelphia Police Department, United States Attorney’s Office and Mayor’s Office of Re-entry Services launched the Focused Deterrence program. This innovative violence reduction strategy focused on trying to bring down violent crime in South Philadelphia.
The program brings members from several violent groups operating in the 1st, 3rd and 17th Police Districts to a Violence Reduction meeting. The meeting, which is named “a Call-In”, allows the Police Commissioner and his staff, the District Attorney and his staff, representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office, the mother of a murdered youth, Ex-offenders, Community Representatives, and a Social Service coordinator to speak directly to individuals and delivering the message that the violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated any more.
Today members of City Council are hearing testimony about Focused Deterrence from the agencies involved in the program. First Assistant Edward McCann is testifying and below his is testimony.
“Good Afternoon. My name is Ed McCann, and I am the First Assistant District Attorney of Philadelphia. I am pleased to be before you with my colleagues to discuss Focused Deterrence today. My written testimony will provide a brief summary of Focused Deterrence.
Let me say at the outset, Focused Deterrence in Philadelphia has been a great collaboration. Bryan Lentz, the former Chief of the Gun Violence Task Force, once called this program the coalition of the willing. That is a very apt phrase. When we started talking to our partners about this program, we didn’t have any additional resources to give to anyone. In fact, just about all the agencies involved have committed hundreds of hours of work without additional funding. All we had was an idea, and the hope that if we all worked together, we could make a meaningful impact on gun violence. We in the DA’s office are very proud participants in this partnership we have all created, which consists of the Philadelphia Police Department, our office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Gun Violence Task Force, the courts, adult and juvenile probation, the Mayor’s Office, members of City Council and their staffs, PGW, PECO, Comcast, over 30 social service provider agencies, and most importantly, members of 24 community/neighborhood groups. The citizens of Philadelphia have a right to expect this type of cooperation on an issue as vital as gun violence, but in my nearly 25 years as a prosecutor, I have never seen this level of collaboration.
Focused Deterrence is about prevention, outreach, consequences and accountability. We all use the term “smart on crime” a lot. We’d all like to think that what we support and advocate for is smart on crime. But I can assure you Focused Deterrence unquestionably is very smart on crime.
This is a strategy to reduce group-motivated gun violence currently in South Philadelphia. As I have stated, this level of collaboration among law enforcement, social services, and the community is unprecedented. Law enforcement agencies, led by the Philadelphia Police Department and our office, work together to identify the violent groups in South Philadelphia and their members. The key moment in the strategy is a “call-in,” or “notification,” repeated as necessary: a face-to-face meeting between group members and the partnership. The partners deliver key messages to group members: that the violence is wrong and has to stop; that the community needs them alive and out of prison and with their loved ones; that help is available to all who would accept it; and that any future violence will be met with clear, predictable, and certain consequences.
We have conducted three “call ins” to this point. I think the evidence clearly shows that our message has been heard on the street and I am sure that other witnesses will discuss that. The group members in South Philadelphia know about this program and the consequences that follow if their group is involved with a shooting. While there are promising early signs that the program is having a positive effect on reducing violence, we have still had to conduct several enforcement actions after we have determined that a shooting or homicide is group motivated. David Kennedy’s National Network for Safe Communities, in addressing enforcement actions, explains that “these enforcement actions pursue serious consequences for the “shooter,” the individual who committed the (prohibited) violent act, AND seek to bring some type of legal sanction, informal sanction or uncomfortable attention to as many of that individual’s group associates as possible for any crimes they may be committing. The purpose of this group focus is to hold groups and gangs collectively accountable for the violence, and by doing so, to reduce the group dynamic that drives much urban violence.
I would point out that the National Network for Safe Communities recently held a working session in New Orleans, in part to highlight the Philadelphia Police Departments South Gang Task Force, which they described as an extremely creative line level operation that can serve to advance practice amongst leading practitioners nationally. So while this program has only been running in South Philadelphia for less than a year, the Police Department’s enforcement strategy is already being recognized nationally as a best practice for other jurisdictions to follow.
The District Attorney’s Office has expended enormous amounts of time and resources in helping to shape and implement Focused Deterrence, as have all of our partners. It has been well worth the commitment, and our commitment will continue. We think this strategy has the potential to have a substantial impact on reducing violence in South Philadelphia, and look forward to continuing the collaborative work we have started here.”