City Council: Budget Hearings Continue, Anti-Gun Violence Hearing

The Special Committee on Gun Violence met to hear testimony regarding gun violence amongst the city’s youth. Councilmember Jamie Gauthier began the hearing by recounting sobering statistical information about the prevalence of gun violence amongst children, particularly the rate of shooting victims increasing from 6.3% to 9.6% between 2015 and 2022.

Gauthier called the rise of youth gun violence a public health emergency. Kevin Bethel, Chief of School Safety at the Philadelphia School District, said the city had seen 332 people under the age of 22 shot, of which 51 were murdered.

Bethel said school safety was divided between two areas; the physical components of providing school safety, and working with young people directly. Regarding the former, Bethel pointed to school safety zones, where uniformed police officers are present during dismissal. In terms of reaching students directly, Bethel said the district had adopted a program created by the Chicago School District, a collaboration between the school district and the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, which provides “extra supervision and support for students traveling to and from school to reduce the rate of violence experienced by students.”

Dr. Ruth Abaya, the Injury Prevention Program Manager for the Philadelphia Department of Health, listed key approaches to prevention and intervention of anti-gun violence strategies, including safe storage of firearms.

“Firearm access among youth is complicated,” Abaya said. “But we know that research has shown parental ownership predicts use and possession, and youth access is linked with involvement in violence.”

Abaya also lamented the Commonwelath’s power of preemption, the ability of the state government to supersede local laws, particularly pertaining to guns.

Abaya also questioned what motivates youth to carry guns, particularly the belief that carrying a gun prevents violence.

It is also no surprise that the areas of the city most affected by gun violence are areas of the city subjected to poverty and chronic unemployment.

Tyler McDaniels, and 19-year-old from West Philadelphia, explained that gun violence was commonplace when he was growing up. As a victim of gun violence himself, and someone who is currently on house arrest, McDaniels said his time in the system was not productive and in no way helped him break the cycle of gun violence. Luckily, he found support from other places.

YEAH Philly (Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout) works with young people in the legal system charged with committing a violent crime. Kendra Van de Water, executive director of YEAH Philly, echoed McDaniels’ testimony, saying young people adjudicated for serious crimes are not given real support within the legal system.

“It’s not uncommon for a young person to be on house arrests for an entire year and accomplish nothing in that year,” Van de Water said. “In fact, these terms have no rehabilitation and always make a young person worse in terms of their behavior, their mental health, and their overall well-being.”

Van de Water said many of the court-mandated programs for youth result in recidivism rates of around 80%. From an economic standpoint, it costs $900 per day when youth are incarcerated, with no real rehabilitation occurring in that time. Van de Water also decried the lack of cooperation between the courts and programs designed to assist recently-incarcerated youth.


Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Theil testified that the Philadelphia Fire Department is likely the busiest fire department in the nation and possibly the world, receiving 370,000 calls for service last year. The number of calls necessitated 500,000 vehicle responses. In 2023, the city suffered 41 fire deaths, and nearly 2000 people were displaced from their homes.

The city has experienced 11 fire deaths, 75 injuries, and 522 displaced this year. The PFD averages between 8-10 severe fires and 800 to 1000 emergency incidents every 24 hours. 80% of the calls are medical, while 20% are fire-related.

The Fire Department is experiencing similar staffing issues to other areas of city government, with 2913 out of 3460 positions filled, or about 84%. Currently, two firefighter/EMT classes are running, with 150 cadets soon to graduate.

Office of Children and Families

Vanessa Garret-Harley, deputy mayor for The Office of Children and Families, testified that PHLpreK will add 950 seats in fiscal year 2024, for a total of 5250 total seats. 1399 of the seats will be in “priority neighborhoods,” according to Garret Harley.

“(this) means that the neighborhood has a high number of children under 5 living in poverty, a high number of early childhood risk factors, and lower numbers of publicly funded high-quality preschool seats,” Garret Harley said.

In response to a question regarding summer jobs for city youths from Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, Garret Harley said one of the top barriers to city youth employment was an applicant missing a vital document, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card. With cost sometimes creating an additional barrier, Garett Harley said the city will pay the fees for young people to obtain needed documents via gift cards.

According to information provided by Johnson, more than 17,000 Philadelphia youth applied for the WorkReady program last year. 4000 of those applications did not have the proper documentation to successfully complete the application process, with another 5000 not following up to notices that additional documents were required.

The city will also provide information sessions to provide applicants with assistance in completing the WorkReady application.

The WorkReady program, managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network, is for Philadelphia youth aged 12-24. It runs from July to August and offers up to $1000 for the two months of work.

In regards to a question asked by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson regarding LED lights across the city, the Office of Sustainablity said they had audited every light fixture in the city, totalling 133,000, and overlaid data including nihgttime crime, pedestrain and vehicle crashes, and other inofrmation to determine which areas of the city will be prirotized.

The LED light project is expected to begin this summer and will take approximately 24 months, with work occurring in 8-10 neighborhoods at a time. The goal is to replace every roadway light and every alleyway light in the city.

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