Apr 19, 2023 - News

Schools safety chief wants data-driven look at gun violence

Illustration of shattered glass in the shape of a gun.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Violence has repeatedly visited the doorsteps of Philadelphia’s schools, with more than 100 students already having been shot this school year — about a fifth fatally.

Driving the news: Kevin Bethel, Philadelphia’s school safety chief, wants to take a data-driven approach to youth gun violence, examining five years' worth of figures and trends plus soliciting insights from student victims and perpetrators.

  • The deep dive — gathered with the help of a fellowship from the Stoneleigh Foundation — could enhance future safety measures, such as deciding where to set up additional "safe corridors" with extra supervision for students while they commute, Bethel said Monday during a City Council hearing on the crisis.
  • “It’s not 240 schools being impacted,” he told council members. “We’re going to be looking at the touchpoint[s].”

State of play: Most students were shot within two miles of school and typically before 5:30pm, Bethel said.

  • Simon Gratz High School Mastery Charter in Nicetown has had nearly a dozen students from 10 different zip codes shot this school year, including a 15-year-old killed last month on the way to class, per Bethel.

Zoom in: Many youth carry guns for protection because they don’t feel safe going to school or walking city streets, some advocates and young people say.

  • “You can die by living the right life,” Tyler McDaniels, a 19-year-old from West Philly who was shot and also was on house arrest at 14, said at the hearing.

Between the lines: Police diversion — providing services to students who get in trouble rather than arresting them — has been a helpful tool for school officials trying to reach at-risk youths.

  • Since adopting the program in 2014, the district has seen a 84% reduction in students arrested for offenses committed at school.

The big picture: The number of youths arrested in Philadelphia actually declined by 69% between 2012 and 2021, according to Robert Listenbee, Philadelphia’s first assistant district attorney.

What's next: Listenbee said his office is releasing a report in May that partly looks at the recidivism rate in the juvenile justice system.

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