Blaming Larry Krasner for Gun Violence Does Not Make Statistical Sense

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Republican lawmakers are cherry-picking crime studies to try and impeach the Philadelphia district attorney.

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are trying to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a reformist prosecutor who built a national reputation for attempting to curb mass incarceration and hold violent cops accountable, and who was overwhelmingly reelected last year to a second term.

Impeachment proceedings often follow allegations of criminal behavior or corruption, but Krasner isn’t accused of either. Instead, Republicans claim that his progressive policies—like requesting to jail fewer people before trial and letting certain low-level offenders off the hook—led to record-breaking gun homicides in Philadelphia. “I recognize the unprecedented nature of what must be done and am confident our members are up to the task,” Republican state Rep. Martina White told reporters on Wednesday while announcing the articles of impeachment. In Pennsylvania’s entire history, only two state officials have been impeached.

The crusade against Krasner is part of a broader, nationwide push, led largely by conservatives amid fears about crime rates, to remove progressive district attorneys from office or limit their power. In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, however, the best available crime data does not support allegations that these prosecutors are responsible for the recent uptick in shootings. In fact, at least a couple of studies suggest that violence has risen less rapidly in their jurisdictions than in other places led by more traditional prosecutors with tough-on-crime policies.

Krasner took office in 2018 and soon announced a series of bold reforms. Chief among them, his office would no longer pursue charges against sex workers and individuals caught with marijuana possession, and no longer request cash bail from people accused of some misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. He instructed his team to prioritize diversion programs and seek shorter prison sentences than his predecessors had sought, and he helped exonerate more than two dozen people who were wrongfully convicted under previous district attorneys. He also sued pharmaceutical companies for labor practices that fueled the opioid epidemic, and created a list of police officers who lied on duty, used excessive force, racially profiled, or violated civil rights.

He quickly came under attack by politicians who blamed him for gun violence: Nationally, homicides rose about 30 percent during the first year of the pandemic, mostly from shootings, and Philadelphia saw a record 562 killings in 2021, compared with 356 in 2019. Though Krasner has prioritized violence prevention efforts, his critics, including Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, accuse him of letting too many criminals out of jail and convicting fewer people for gun possession. But leading criminologists do not believe his policies were responsible for the rise in murders. University of Oxford professor Christopher Stone, for example, recently examined violent crime rates in Philadelphia and other cities with progressive prosecutors, including Brooklyn, Chicago, and St. Louis. “Not only had violent crime not risen more under progressive prosecutors than under the old guard [of traditional prosecutors],” he wrote in January, “but in every place I looked the progressive prosecutors were presiding over greater reductions or smaller increases in violent crime than in their surrounding counties.”

Another study by academic researchers at several major universities, including the University of Toronto, the University of Missouri at St. Louis, and Boston University, drew similar conclusions. The researchers found that from 2015 to 2019, murder rates rose in fewer cities with progressive prosecutors (56 percent) than cities with traditional prosecutors (68 percent). And when gun killings spiked nationally from 2020 to 2021, the increase in violence was slightly less in places with progressive prosecutors than elsewhere. Plus, there was no meaningful difference in robbery or larceny rates regardless of which type of district attorney was in charge.

“I think it’s really important to emphasize the extent to which we looked for a relationship [between a prosecutor’s progressive policies and crime rates] and found none,” Todd Foglesong, a fellow in residence at the University of Toronto and one of the study’s co-authors, told the Atlantic. (Fordham University professor John Pfaff, who examined homicide rates in 69 cities in 2020, reported similar findings.)

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