- The Washington Times
Wednesday, March 9, 2022

PHILADELPHIA — House Democrats gathered in Philadelphia on Wednesday to address the country’s biggest issues, as residents in the city that set a record for homicides in 2021 stress that rising crime remains a top concern.

More than 100 Democratic lawmakers, Cabinet officials and President Biden are expected to tout Democratic achievements at their annual strategy retreat, including ways to move forward with their stalled social welfare agenda.

But aside from the promises made in the president’s signature $2 trillion social spending plan, which includes proposals like universal pre-K and child tax credit expansions, some local residents would like to see a solution to the high crime that has afflicted cities across the country.

“There’s murders every day,” said Claire Meyer, a retired teacher who lives outside of Philadelphia. “The amount of gun violence in the city is definitely on the rise.”

Philadelphia is among several cities facing a crime wave, with 2021 being a record year for homicides. There were 559 homicides last year, up about 13% from the previous year, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.

And as of Tuesday, there have been 98 homicides in Philadelphia so far in 2022, a 10% increase over the same time period in 2021, according to the city controller’s office. There were 384 shooting victims in the city in the first 67 days of this year, 86 of whom died.

Carjackings have also hit a high in the city, with more than 140 carjackings reported in Philadelphia by February — doubling last year’s rate in the same time period.

In December, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, Pennsylvania Democrat who represents parts of Philadelphia, was robbed at gunpoint during a carjacking in the city. Ms. Scanlon, who is expected to attend the conference, was unharmed in the incident but her car and purse were stolen.

At the time of her carjacking, some news reports noted that Ms. Scanlon was one of 125 Democratic co-sponsors of the Mental Health Justice Act, which aimed to place some police officers as first responders with mental health specialists. Heading into the midterm elections, Democrats and Mr. Biden also are trying to shed the image as the party of “defund the police.”

Patricia Hansberry, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb, said she’s noticed an uptick in crime that could be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Hansberry said she’s seen more news reports of crimes being committed by younger perpetrators in the past year.

“The pandemic has brought about an increase in crime, but it seems to be younger people,” Ms. Hansberry said. “I think there is a connection between the pandemic and them not being in school.”

Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Northeastern University, said it’s unsurprising to see that crime is a concern for voters.

Mr. Panagopoulos said Democrats have made public safety a priority in terms of police reform and working with local governments, but there’s been little to point to when it comes to a strong federal response to rising murder, theft and carjacking rates.

“There have not been major actions taken at this point that dramatically alter the landscape on how to deal with these issues, so voters might still be waiting for some action on that by the administration and Congress,” Mr. Panagopoulos said.

A Fox Business survey in December found that almost 8 in 10 registered voters (77%) are “extremely” or “very” concerned about the surge.

And a July 2021 poll from Morning Consult found that 78% of voters believed violent crime is a “major problem” in the country.

Among those who said crime is a major problem, 77% identified as Democrats while 80% affiliated with the GOP.

In the same survey, 73% of overall voters believed crime was on the rise and one-third said it was increasing in their own communities.

Several members of the Democratic caucus will be in Philadelphia from Wednesday to Friday.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh are among the Cabinet officials who are joining the conference.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul will also make appearances.

Mr. Biden will close the conference with remarks on Friday.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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