Philadelphia law enforcement is failing to secure justice when people are shot. As the city’s gun violence surged this year to heights not seen in a generation, the Philadelphia Inquirer analyzed every shooting since 2015, using police data, court records, and interviews with victims, family members, police, prosecutors, and community advocates. The analysis showed the “startling depths of a slow-motion systemic collapse.” Of the nearly 8,500 shootings in which people were wounded or killed since 2015, just 21 percent led to charges. Fewer than nine percent have reached a conviction. Though hundreds of incidents are winding their way through the courts, and an untold number remain under investigation, this year’s pace of gun violence means the number of people who shot and got away is much larger than years past and continues to grow.
As of Nov. 1, just under one in six of this year’s nearly 1,900 shootings had led to a suspect in custody. That staggering number of unsolved cases is nearly 40 percent higher than in all of 2015. In a historically segregated city, where Black and brown neighborhoods have long suffered from government disinvestment, institutional racism, and heavy-handed police tactics, the justice system has disproportionately failed these communities. Since 2015, almost 2,700 young Black men were wounded in shootings, but suspected triggermen were convicted in only six percent of their cases. White men of the same age were three times as likely to see their shooters convicted. To those demanding policing reform, the failure to solve shootings is further evidence that generations of oppressive policing in Black communities has only built mistrust and helped foster violence. Conviction rates for nonfatal shootings and illegal gun possession have fallen since District Attorney Larry Krasner took office in 2018. Some police commanders complain that repeat offenders routinely get low bail or shorter sentences for gun crimes.