Last week, all eight candidates hoping to get elected District Attorney of Philadelphia met at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in a debate hosted by the Chestnut Hill Local and WHYY.
The exchange between the candidates spanned a wide reach of issues that are crucial to improving the way law enforcement and criminal prosecution works in the city. From reforming asset forfeiture policy to combating gun violence, all eight candidates outlined the way they would approach the role of top prosecutor.
The final question of the evening, from moderator Dave Davies of WHYY, asked the candidates to consider what they might do to combat quality-of-life crime. Quality-of-life crimes generally means lesser crimes from shoplifting and stealing items from parked cars to vandalism and late night loitering.
The candidates had varying views on the subject, but all agreed that it was important to find ways to intervene with those who commit quality-of life-crime, keep them out of jail if possible and look for ways to make sure a petty criminal of the present doesn’t become a felon of the future.
While it’s understandable that the issue doesn’t get the attention it might normally get in a race in which there are big glaring issues, including a bad cash bail system, an asset forfeiture program considered the worst in the nation, and a full blown corruption crisis at the top, quality-of-life crime needs to be an important factor on which the District Attorney is focused.
These are typically the crimes that most populate the crime report of the Chestnut Hill Local on any given week. It’s rare that a seven-day period goes by without at least one laptop stolen from a parked car in Chestnut Hill. They are small crimes with lesser penalties, and they are increasingly less rare.
Crime rates have largely fallen in the city of Philadelphia. In a year-end report by the Philadelphia Police Department, the violent crime rate was down 5 percent, and while property crime was flat, residential burglary was down 16 percent, personal theft was down 17 percent and commercial burglary down 6 percent.
Much of this is to the credit of the Philadelphia Police Department, whose more informed and hands on approach, district to district, has clearly made a real difference.
Yet, when you speak with people in Chestnut Hill or Mt. Airy, even though those crime rates are down and are arguably at the lowest levels they’ve been in more than a generation, people in the city still worry about crime. In a PEW Charitable Trust poll last October, 44 percent of Philadelphians said their biggest concern in the city was public safety, making it the number one issue.
The slow drip of property crimes – even though that drip has really slowed in recent years – are still the sort of thing that concern people in Chestnut Hill. They have to take care to lock their doors and their cars. They can’t let kids leave their bikes on a porch. Can’t leave anything at all in the back seat of the car.
Things are better, but the issue of small-time crime shouldn’t be set aside to put resources into more pressing problems. Low property crimes are a key to making Philadelphia neighborhoods a place people want to live.