Dec 16, 2022 - News

Philadelphia gets $50M to curb gun violence and upgrade forensic lab

Illustration of a police officer standing on the highest pile of coins in a row.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Philadelphia is getting $50 million in state grant funding to help three agencies combat rising gun violence.

Driving the news: State Sen. Vincent Hughes, flanked by state and city leaders, announced the award Thursday at West Philly's Mill Creek Recreation Center, where former employee Tiffany Fletcher was shot and killed in September.

  • The money, part of a larger $170 million package that Gov. Tom Wolf doled out statewide Thursday, will be divided among Philadelphia's Police Department, District Attorney's Office and SEPTA.

Why it matters: The funding comes as the city's year-end homicide numbers show only a slight improvement from 2021's record — and adds to the more than $200 million Philly has poured into violence prevention efforts in 2022.

  • Some critics, including former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, have questioned the spending. While others caution it's too early to tell whether the interventions are working, WHYY reports.

Details: The Police Department is getting $25 million to modernize and eventually relocate the city's forensic center into a larger space and hire at least 120 more scientists.

  • The DA's office will receive $20 million to "triple" the size of a digital lab that mostly handles cell phone extractions in criminal cases, assistant district attorney William Fritze tells Axios. The money will also go toward hiring 10 more prosecutors for the office's eight-person gun violence task force.
  • SEPTA will use its $5 million to bolster staffing levels and potentially expand a new artificial intelligence pilot ZeroEyes, which is capable of identifying people carrying guns onto buses and trains.

What they're saying: Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said during the news conference Thursday that the funding is for the long term. It'll allow for quicker forensic analysis of cases, which will reduce backlogs, lead to quicker apprehension of perpetrators or exoneration of innocent people, Outlaw said.

  • It'll also aid the agency in identifying victims of unsolved cold cases, like the recent case of the "Boy in the Box."

Forensics center director Mike Garvey said the city's current facility, which houses more than 200 employees in a building at 8th and Poplar streets, is about a third of the size of what the department needs.

  • The city's crime caseload has ballooned in recent years, Garvey said. This year, the department is on track to seize more than 6,000 crime guns, up from about 3,500 in 2018, Garvey said.
  • More space and staff means "rather than catching someone on their sixth or seventh rape" or "on their second, third or four shooting, maybe it's the first one," Garvey said.

What's ahead: Garvey said staff hiring will begin "sooner rather than later," as it can take up to two years to properly train forensic scientists to do their jobs.


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