Some pols want to fight violence with new laws, and some want to fight it with extra cops. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah wants to throw the kitchen sink at the problem, proposing everything from 1,000 new surveillance cameras to an intense round of prayer.
Rolling out the first major policy paper of his Philadelphia mayoral campaign yesterday, Fattah promised better technology, more police officers, new anticrime tactics, increased reward dollars, and improved outreach efforts to at-risk populations, among other things.
But even after unveiling an exhaustive list of proposals that touched on everything from acoustic gunshot-detection software to cell phones for Town Watch groups, the Democratic mayoral hopeful focused anew on the economic issues that have been the centerpiece of his campaign.
"The most important thing a next mayor has to do is create a city of opportunity," Fattah said. "It is not illegal guns, it is the absence of opportunity which is at the heart of" Philadelphia's crime problems.
He did not put a price tag on his anticrime plan, which includes promises to:
Invest in new technology such as 1,000 additional street-surveillance cameras and an audio-software system that will help police pinpoint the location of gunshots, and study the use of imaging software that could help cameras spot people carrying guns.
Increase the police force by whatever number a commission deems necessary to make Philadelphia "the safest city in the world," while designating more officers to go after illegal guns and catch killers.
Provide more incentives to get guns off the streets, including rewards for tips about illegal guns and grocery vouchers for those who turn in guns.
Provide new tools to Town Watch groups and work with prosecutors on cracking down on straw purchases of guns, using plea-bargain-like negotiations to reward informants who would "drop a dime" on traffickers of illegal guns.
Invest in programs that help at-risk youths while maximizing the monitoring of those who have engaged in past gun crimes.
Fattah said his campaign had leaned on advice from University of Pennsylvania criminologist Lawrence Sherman in crafting its proposals. A proponent of devoting resources to seizing illegal guns, Sherman is known for a seminal 1992 project in which Kansas City police went after such guns with some of the tactics Fattah is touting.
A former Camden County prosecutor who has advised one of Fattah's rivals said the key to any such plan was police leadership.
"They're all worthy ideas individually, but unless you can bring them all together in one plan with a strong leader, it all seems like kind of a mishmash," said Vincent P. Sarubbi, who served as the monitor for Camden's police department and has advised the mayoral campaign of former City Councilman Michael A. Nutter. "To me, this is just like ticking off different things. Most importantly: Who's going to lead this? Will it be someone who they say, 'OK, I'm letting you loose, do your job'?"
Fattah yesterday strongly hinted that he would look to replace Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson from within the department when Johnson retires at the end of Mayor Street's term.
"I intend to have an exhaustive search right here in Philadelphia," said Fattah, in marked contrast to one rival, State Rep. Dwight Evans, who has vowed to woo former Commissioner John F. Timoney, a national policing celebrity, back to Philadelphia if elected.
Fattah staged his anticrime announcement at West Philadelphia's Mercy Hospital, where he said he was brought in the 1970s after getting shot while intervening in a gang dispute.
The event also provided a preview of what a Fattah campaign will likely look like between now and the May 15 Democratic primary.
Fattah, who has led in several polls, played the gracious front-runner by singling out and praising anticrime efforts by all his mayoral rivals. He also made several nods toward the faith-based community, promising to sponsor an anticrime prayer vigil starting Monday, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is celebrated, and ending April 4, the 39th anniversary of the civil-rights leader's assassination.
And where other candidates have portrayed themselves as eager to break with the status quo, Fattah voiced support for local officials such as Johnson and District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. He struck a more modulated tone than his rivals' about the rising homicide rate, saying killings are a nationwide problem that have not been markedly worse here than in other big cities.
"The truth is, we've come back from worse," Fattah said. "We should not hold our heads down."
One thing Fattah did not specify: the cost of his proposal. He said yesterday's was but one of the policy statements he would be releasing. He said that, later in the campaign, he would spell out what expenses he would cut or revenues he would increase to pay for his new ideas.
"If you think this has a price tag to it," he said, "wait till I get to education."