New office to police $60 million Philly spends on antiviolence programs

Philadelphia police run crime scene tape.

Although Philadelphia spends $60 million a year on antiviolence programs, homicides are up 21 percent over last year and aggravated assaults with a gun are up by more than 4 percent, according to police.

“It’s totally unacceptable,” Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said. “If you’re spending $60 million and shootings are increasing and homicides are increasing, then something is wrong with the strategies.”

On Tuesday, Mayor Kenney announced the establishment of the Office of Violence Prevention, which will gauge the effectiveness of the dozens of existing antiviolence programs in the city that receive a portion of the $60 million in city funding. Individual evaluations of programs have been conducted before, but this is the first citywide and coordinated evaluation, according to mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.

“We felt the need to assess whether all that money was being spent well and whether we were measuring the outcome of our investments,” Hitt said.

The new office is also charged with researching the latest trends and innovations in violence prevention, and it will serve as an umbrella for all other city-run violence-prevention programs. Similar initiatives are already in place in New Orleans and New York, Hitt said.

Johnson, who applauded Kenney for forming the office, said he’s glad it will look at violence-prevention strategies from a coordinated perspective in a city where oftentimes “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

He said he hopes agencies on the ground not currently receiving city funding might have the opportunity to obtain funding under the new office and he hopes those research groups that do receive funding but never set their feet on the ground are reevaluated.

“I know for a fact you have some hardworking antiviolence activists out on a daily basis who don’t have a chance at funding … and you have organizations that are great at analysis, but they’re not actually out in the community touching people,” he said. “Let’s make sure we’re being effective and intentional with our strategies of reducing gun violence.”

Kenney appointed Shondell Revell, 48, who most recently served as the executive director of the city’s Youth Violence Reduction Partnership, as the executive director of the new office. Revell, who will be supported by four staffers, said his office will reach out to antiviolence groups currently receiving city funding and to the communities they serve.

“This office doesn’t believe that throwing money at violence prevention is the answer,” Revell said. “We have to do a really complete evaluation of the programs in the community. A program can be great, but if the community doesn’t gravitate to it, it won’t be effective at all.”

The announcement of the creation of the office comes less than three weeks after Inquirer and Daily News columnist Helen Ubiñas called for the city to hold antiviolence programs accountable, but Hitt said plans for the office had been in motion since January.

According to police, 1,222 cases of aggravated assault with a gun had been reported in Philadelphia as of July 16, up from 1,169 at the same time last year. As of July 17, the city had marked 169 homicides this year, up from 140 at the same time last year.