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New committee takes multi-pronged approach at tackling gun violence

July 28, 2017 GMT

By all accounts, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson enjoys his job. But there is one aspect of it that he would love to be able to eliminate.

“At least three times a month I have to speak at a funeral, console a mom of some young man who was murdered in the streets for some violence on social media or some disrespectful comment made to another young man,” he said. “I’m tired of that.”

In yet another effort to quell the gun violence that plagues Philadelphia, Johnson, City Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis, and former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Darrell G. O’Connor were introduced at the 17th Police District as co-chairs of the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention.

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The focus of the committee, which was introduced by Johnson and authorized by City Council last month, is to create a clearly defined cross-sector approach to reducing gun violence. Other committee members are Council President Darrell L. Clarke, Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., Bennie Price, Deputy Chief, Juvenile Probation and Parole Department, and first Deputy Police Commissioner Myron Patterson.

The commission consists of six subcommittees. They are: Illegal Guns, Public Health/Trauma Informed, Social Services/Opportunity, Intervention/Outreach, Program Review Team, and Victim Advocates.

Through Wednesday evening, there were 177 homicides in the city, a 16 percent spike from 2016, when there were 153 by the same date. The 177 murders represent the most in the city to this point since 2012 (204). That also marked the last time the city topped 300 murders (331) in the calendar year. Through July 16th, 2017, there have been over 1200 aggravated assaults with a gun, which is 5 percent more than this time last year

“We frequently have issues that are so important that we have to alter the structure and put in place these special committees where we want to be laser focused on the issue,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke said in announcing the committee on Wednesday. “This is that type of committee – and I must apologize because we should have done this a long time ago because the level of gun violence in our city is totally unacceptable.”

Earlier this month, Mayor Jim Kenney’s office announced the creation of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and appointed Shondell Revell executive director. That office is responsible for assessing and coordinating the $60 million the city currently has invested in anti-violence programs across departments. The Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention will work closely with OVP, according to Clarke.

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The committee’s approach is that there are many factors that contribute to gun violence, including the sale of illegal guns, social services problems and other conditions. There is a growing movement afoot to label gun violence, which results in more deaths annually than HIV, hypertension, atherosclerosis and anemia, as a public health crisis.

“We want to be as comprehensive as possible in our approach to tackling what is a crucial issue,” DiBerardinis said. “We have an obligation not only to work and coordinate in our office and across the government, police and all other interventional agencies. And we also have an obligation to respond to the community and to reach out and learn and understand not only about the nature of the violence but the impact of violence.”

Said O’Connor: “I have seen firsthand in tragic detail the damage gun violence inflicts on lives, families, and communities. I’m honored to be asked to serve on the committee, and look forward to lending my experience and expertise toward making Philadelphia one of the safest cities in the nation.”