STATE SENS. WILLIAMS, FUMO, HELP LAUNCH TASK FORCE TO COMBAT ILLEGAL GUNS
State budget line item provides Philadelphia police $800,000 for a city task force
PHILADELPHIA, October 24, 2005 - With illegal guns being a major issue in the recent spike of violent crime in Philadelphia, state Sens. Anthony H. Williams and Vincent J. Fumo sought and secured $800,000 to create a new police unit to expressly tackle this scourge on the city.
"This begins the process of a frontal assault on one of the major problems that creates the level of violence we have now," Williams said. "There are too many illegal guns in our community that result in untimely deaths - especially young people having these high caliber weapons. We can look in the newspapers almost daily and see tragic examples."
Recent reports have shown that the majority of violent crimes such as these are committed by those who do not possess legal permits for their guns.
The money for the new unit - a line item in the state budget - allows for the Philadelphia Police Department to concentrate on tracking and nabbing illegal guns before lives are lost.
"If we could just get the illegal gun trade out of the community," Williams said, "maybe these young people really could hear the message of peace and hope, rather than the clatter of bullets, the clanging of the gun trade."
The new unit would engage in surveillance, and in obtaining and executing search and arrest warrants.
"Enforcement is the answer to the problem of gun violence and gun crimes. Nothing else will really be effective," Fumo said. "We already have laws on the books to deal with gun crimes, but if the authorities don't have the tools and the resources to enforce them, it won't matter. That's why this is so important."
In crafting the budget item, Williams consulted with several people and civic organizations working to combat the problem of illegal guns on Philadelphia streets, most notably Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson.
Pennsylvania, with its rich hunting and agrarian history, has adopted laws that are intended to keep guns out of the hands of criminals without impeding ownership by law-abiding citizens. Unfortunately, illegal guns remain on the streets of Philadelphia in significant numbers. While others in Harrisburg are not yet convinced that Philadelphia needs special efforts to address that concern, at least there are legislators willing to find creative methods to address the problem, Johnson said.
"It's good to know that we have state legislators, especially Anthony Williams, who are not just criticizing, but are stepping up to the plate, doing something about it," Johnson said. "We get so much criticism from everybody, here at the department. But all of that is rhetoric, just talk. Anthony Williams does more than talk."
With federal block grant money shrinking every year for the past few years, Johnson said, this infusion will assist Philadelphia police in intensifying gun violence prevention efforts.
"That $800,000 will make a big difference," he added.
The appropriation comes as part of the $24 billion state budget, and furthers the commitment of Gov. Ed Rendell to creating a safer environment in Philadelphia. This effort joins other initiatives such as the Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia and the governor's Gun Commission, created last spring.
"I hope this will allow greater cooperation between the police, the district attorney, the ATF, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. Lives are being destroyed by violent crimes committed with guns, and we want to help law enforcement authorities put their emphasis where it needs to be to stop those crimes," said Fumo, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee.
Whereas previous efforts have focused a great deal of their resources on prosecution, Williams said this initiative incorporates a crucial link - preventing illegal guns from circulating in the first place.
"Prosecution is an element, but this is more essential," he said. "Prosecution is after the fact. I don't know how to reduce the number of lives lost if we're only going to prosecute. We should actually try to prevent people from getting weapons illegally. By putting more into the prevention side, we can create a real, comprehensive solution."
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