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Inside the City Council caucus room Wednesday, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, chair of City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, kicked off a series of monthly meetings to discuss how the city should respond to the ongoing gun violence crisis. District Attorney Larry Krasner, Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, SEPTA, and city agencies attended.
Explaining that, “people still don’t feel safe here in the city of Philadelphia,” Councilmember Johnson and other leaders committed to find better ways to collaborate.
Dr. Jill Bowen, Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) shared her idea on how to improve outcomes across agencies, explaining, “The way to not succeed is to work in silos – to have a program here and a program here and a program here.”
She continued, “This requires a systemic response… you have to convene like we are doing here and to work together to shift the system. Some of the [proposed] responses we have to really look at closely because they add trauma to a situation.”
Kevin Bethel, the chief safety officer for the Philadelphia School District, warned that traumatic incidents that affect a larger community over time — defined as community trauma — have already impacted more than 100 students in the last school year.
“Thirty of the shootings were fatal,” said Bethel. “Twenty-five of those students were active students. The sheer impact that has on our schools is significant… a kid who gets shot is more likely to get shot again or be killed or kill or shoot someone. And so if the interventions are not important [before] then, then when will they be?”
SEPTA Police Chief Chuck Lawson expressed concern about the increase in gun violence on public transportation, even as shootings have decreased by about 20%. He attributed the phenomenon to the ‘sheer volume’ of guns accessible in Philadelphia, saying, “It’s not narcotics distribution, it’s not gang violence… As long as somebody is carrying a weapon and they get into an argument, they’re going to use it.”