House Republicans come to Philadelphia to attack Attorney Larry Krasner

Republican members of Congress came to Philadelphia on Friday to hammer District Attorney Larry Krasner over the city’s crime problems and provide a platform for family members of local police officers killed in the line of duty.

Ohio Reps. Jim Jordan, Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, New Jersey Republican Jeff Van Drew and other Republican-led members of the House Judiciary Committee held the hearing at the federal building in Center City; it was the last of four such discussions about violent crime staged in Democratic-led cities.

They invited family members of the fallen officers, Sgt. James O’Connor and Sgt. TempleUniversity. Christopher Fitzgerald to testify and criticize Krasner, citing a barrage of statistics, some of them misleading, as evidence of the district attorney’s and city government’s alleged “insane” failure to ensure public safety.

“Philadelphia’s pro-criminal policies embolden criminals while victims don’t get the justice they deserve,” said Jordan, the commission’s chairman. “Krasner is using his office to crusade against what he sees as “social injustices,” such as bail reform and reduced sentences. “However, his policies came at the cost of victims and lives lost.”

Democratic committee members pushed back against the claim that crime has been sinking since the height of the pandemic and dismissed the hearing as a “cynical political circus,” said U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon.

They argue that legislators’ time would be better spent passing laws such as red flag laws and bans on “ghost gun” kits, which Republicans largely oppose.

“Philadelphians and all Americans deserve a Congress that does its job and passes legislation, not a Congress that spends all its time mired in political sideways and dysfunction,” Scanlon said.

Krasner held press conferences with supporters on Thursday and again after Friday’s hearing to refute the House committee’s claims. He called it a “mock hearing” and said it was about painting Democrats in a bad featherlight ahead of November’s presidential and congressional elections rather than a good-faith effort to fight crime.

Although the prosecutor was not invited to the hearing, some Republicans criticized him for not attending anyway. Krasner stated that he would have preferred to be invited, but did not attend because he did not think he would have the opportunity to respond to the allegations against him.

We focus on historically high crime rates

Some of the trends Republicans highlighted during the hearing would be familiar to many Philadelphians.

They focused on the city’s massive boost in homicides in 2021, when 562 people died, the prosecution and arrest rates under Krasner, and his policies not chasing people for minor crimes such as prostitution, possession of marijuana and retail theft under $500, among others.

They acknowledged that homicides and some other crimes are falling sharply, to 410 homicides last year, and that homicides this year are 35% lower than the same period in 2023. However, they said current rates are still high by historical measures and reflect a trend that began after Krasner took office in 2018.

Lawmakers have also sought to link the rise in crime during the pandemic to a national movement to “defund the police,” which they believe has contributed to the rise in murders in Philadelphia.

“This was a recipe for disaster that this committee has seen time and time again in Democrat-run cities. “Prosecutors being soft on crime, coupled with elected leaders denouncing police funding, is leading to disastrous consequences for the citizens they are sworn to serve,” Jordan said.

He and other Republican members of the committee have repeatedly said that Philadelphia gave $33 million to the police in 2020. “It had a real impact,” Virginia Republican Ben Cline said.

But despite calls from Defund activists, sympathetic City Council members and others at the time, the city never actually cut police-related spending. Then-Mayor Jim Kenney rescinded a proposed $19 million boost to the police budget, and $14 million in programs were moved to the executive director’s office.

The dispute over the death penalty

Family members of the murdered policemen described in detail the circumstances of the deaths of their loved ones and tried to link them to Krasner’s policy.

O’Connor’s widow, Terri O’Connor, said the man who he shot her husband in 2020, he was charged with multiple offenses from previous years, such as carrying a firearm without a license. But he remained free for various reasons, including prosecutors’ decision not to seek prison time for violating parole and to drop drug charges, she added.

“We have a city in ruins,” she said. “We have a district attorney who says crime is down. Of course, if you’re not prosecuting criminals, of course that’s what it looks like. How many second, third, fourth and even more chances should be given?”

When later asked about O’Connor’s comment, Krasner replied that she had misunderstood how crime rates were reported. The information comes from the police and is based on the number of incidents reported, not on accusations, he added.

Pauline Fitzgerald (left) and Joel Fitzgerald appeared on the overhead screen as they testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in Philadelphia. May 3, 2024 (Meir Rinde/Billy Penn)

Pauline and Joel Fitzgerald, who served as police officers in Philadelphia and other cities, described the death of their son as he grappled with an armed suspect near Temple University in February 2023.

Joel Fitzgerald said the perpetrator should be punished death penaltybut this Krasner – who opposes the death penalty – has so far refused to continue this activity. Instead, he asked them to come to the district attorney’s office and present reasons why the death penalty was appropriate, Fitzgerald said.

“A district attorney in any state or commonwealth of the United States should stand up for the families and victims of violent crimes, and those people should also be the people who represent us, and not have to be lobbied to do the right thing,” he said.

Fitzgerald connected Krasner with progressive district attorneys across the country who he says have “dangerous personal agendas and are destroying hundreds of families” by refusing to punish criminals.

Others who criticized Krasner during the hearing included: Republican Kevin Kiley of California and Rep. Dan Meuser, who represents part of Pennsylvania’s coal region. Retired Philadelphia police officer Nick Gerace testified on behalf of the Republicans, as did a local trial attorney George Bochettowho served as a special prosecutor for the Republican Party in the House of Representatives tried to impeach Krasner.

Gerace attacked Krasner for going after prosecutors former police inspector Joseph Bologna for alleged misconduct and argued that the prosecutor’s hostility towards law enforcement contributed to the boost in crime.

“Police officers are afraid to do their job because Krasner wants to hang every one of them,” he said.

A call to action for solutions

Meanwhile, Democratic committee members called witnesses who spoke about the need for legislation and programs that would prevent gun violence in the first place.

Dr. Ruth Abaya, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, testified on the impact of gun violence on youth and the effectiveness of communities violence intervention programsthat typically provide counseling, health care, housing, and other services to assist victims avoid cycles of violence.

Philadelphia is one of many cities where major investments have been made violence intervention programs in recent years, using funds from the American Rescue Plan Pandemic Relief Act and other sources.

Adam Garber, executive director of CeaseFirePA, said researchers found that half of shootings resulted from arguments, not drug deals or other situations, and that regulating access to firearms would reduce gun deaths.

The House has passed bills on universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, and ghost guns” he said, but the Republican-led state Senate did not take them up.

“There are many popular, bipartisan gun safety policies that are designed to prevent shootings before they happen, rather than causing additional victims later,” Garber said.

In their own remarks, Democratic House members focused on falling crime rates in recent years and called on Republicans to join them in passing legislation to curb violence, rather than presenting what New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler called “purely political theater designed to suit false narrative about Democrats.”

“Today, the majority insisted that we go to Philadelphia, the fourth stop on a city tour that Republicans have selected in an attempt to distract from the fact that they have no meaningful solutions to make our country safer,” said Nadler, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “Instead, they repeatedly focused the committee’s efforts on denigrating immigrants, dismantling commonsense gun laws, and cultivating wild conspiracy theories for which they found no evidence.”

Republican committee members have repeatedly said the district attorney should prosecute more criminals, but they haven’t specified how they want to accomplish that.

Asked later if he wanted Krasner to change his policies or be removed from office, Jordan replied: “We want to reduce crime and we need to talk about what causes it.”

“Frankly, we wanted to provide a platform for people who have been directly impacted by the crazy policies not only in Philadelphia but in cities across the country,” he said.

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