Wide Disparity in Arrest Rates in Shooting of Black Victims Versus White Victims Leads to Reform Call by Philly District Attorney Office

By Luke Kyaw

PHILADELPHIA, PA – There have been almost 2,300 shootings in Philadelphia in 2021, yet police have only made arrests in 17 percent of those incidents, according to the Justice Wire, the Philadelphia District Attorney Office (DAO) Media Center.

This drastic discrepancy is unfortunately not limited to just this year alone, Justice Wire disclosed, noting that only about one in five shootings in Philadelphia since 2015 have purportedly seen an arrest, which means that four of every five victims of these shootings and their families did not ever see justice served.

In order to seek justice for the victims, the DAO said it should file charges and prosecute the suspected perpetrator but that is only possible when police successfully make an arrest.

Given this historical low shooting arrest rate coupled with the rising gun violence crisis nationwide, more and more people are being harmed by shootings and most of them cannot even find closure due to the lack of successful arrests, the DAO said.

Senior Data Analyst Tyler Tran from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Transparency Analysis (DATA) Lab recently published an article, “Shooting Arrest Rates: What Can You Do?,” where he highlighted a possible solution by researchers to improve the low arrest rate: allocating the same amount of resources to investigating non-fatal shootings as fatal shootings.

In most cities, including Philadelphia, arrest rates are significantly higher for fatal shootings than non-fatal shootings, said Tran, attributing this in part to the larger effort and capacity for investigating homicides.

Typically, there is a specialized police unit that investigates homicides while line detectives handle non-fatal shootings for the most part, Tran said, adding that “non-fatal shooting investigations should be afforded the resources that fatal shooting investigations receive” in order to improve the low shooting arrest rate and curb the ever-worsening gun violence crisis.

Tran also noted that this low shooting arrest rate is a racial justice issue that harms the Black community the most.

According to a graph from the Philadelphia DAO DATA Lab, there have been about 8,000 unsolved shootings in the city with Black victims since 2015, almost 19 times the number of unsolved shootings involving white victims.

Tran wrote that communities of color are ironically over-policed and under-policed at the same time, explaining that despite heavy police presence in majority-Black-or-Latinx neighborhoods, many of the residents feel police are unable to protect them or bring them justice, as Trans notes in the racial disparity in arrest rates.

Even if low shooting arrest rates have historically been present in Philadelphia, Tran argues this should not be the norm and law enforcement should focus on improving the arrest rate and bringing justice to victims through inciting organizational change.

About The Author

Luke Kyaw is an incoming third-year at UCLA majoring in Public Affairs. He immigrated from Myanmar in 2015 and currently resides in San Gabriel, California.

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