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March 05, 2021

Philly Council to create anti-violence hotline as homicides continue to surge

Last year, killings reached their highest level in three decades — and they're still climbing

City Council Gun Violence
Gun Violence Hotline Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Philadelphia City Council unanimously approved a bill that establishes a hotline for residents experiencing or exposed to gun violence.

Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday to create a hotline and resource network to address gun violence in the city.

The resolution comes on the heels of one of the most deadly years Philadelphia has seen since 1990. It was introduced just one day after seven people were shot in a six-hour stretch, leaving three people dead. 

The Anti-Violence Resource Network would establish a 24/7, confidential hotline to direct residents to programs and services to curb gun violence in the area. 

"We need a one-stop shop to help people navigate the resources out there to help them once they’ve been exposed to violence," Council President Darrell Clarke said

The hotline would be designed, managed and staffed by people with firsthand knowledge of the neighborhoods most impacted by high rates of violence, as well as people with issue expertise and people with lived experience.

There were 499 reported homicides in 2020, the most since the city recorded 500 homicides in 1990. The vast majority were the result of gun violence. 

Temple University researchers found that the high gun violence rate was exacerbated by the city's COVID-19 restrictions. The pandemic worsened poverty, unemployment and structural racism that "are empirically tied to violence in Philadelphia," their study said.

Philadelphia police data shows 2021 is following in last year's footsteps. There have been 83 reported homicides through Wednesday, a 26% increase over the same time last year. 

Last month, eight people were struck in a mass shooting at the Olney Transportation Center in North Philadelphia. No deaths related to that incident have been reported. In January, a 25-year-old Brewerytown man was robbed and fatally shot while walking his dog.

While the need for change is clear, Clarke told WHYY that the next step is getting the plan to the Appropriations Committee for funding. He said he is working on identifying partner organizations to make the resource center possible.

Other cities impacted by gun violence have taken up various strategies to address the issue.

In Baltimore, a grassroots movement calls on the city's residents to commit zero murders on select weekends of the year. The movement, dubbed Baltimore Ceasefire 365aims to provide resources for handling conflict differently and ultimately end gun violence in the city. 

Kansas City, Missouri is pushing for a public health approach to addressing gun violence rather than a law enforcement-led approach. This includes investing in solutions to the underlying causes of gun violence, like income, housing, food security, schools and living environments, the Kansas City Star reported.

Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker introduced the resolution on behalf of Clarke. The city also operates other hotlines, including the 311 Constituent Call Center, Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline and Project HOME’s Outreach Coordination Center.

"It’s clear from these escalating numbers – we must do more," Clarke said. "We must act boldly – working together — to reduce, prevent and ultimately end this terrible epidemic of gun violence occurring in our city. The Philadelphia Anti-Violence Resource Network is another tool we can use."

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