By Leila Katibah
PHILADELPHIA, PA – In response to increased public safety concerns, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has announced the launch of a new unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) that focuses on holding individuals committing carjackings appropriately accountable.
According to Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) data, there have been 1,000 carjackings in 2022 as of September.
“Other than homicide and shooting victims, [carjacking is] the third most prevalent [crime] happening country-wide,” stated Philadelphia Police Inspector Charles Layton.
As of this year, the DAO has charged 304 of the 305 carjacking arrests made by the PPD, and, according to PPD data, 159 of those arrests involved adult suspects, while 146 arrests involved juveniles.
The Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney have funded to the DAO a budget increase of $1.5 million over six months, allowing for the creation of the Carjacking Enforcement Unit (CEU).
Krasner’s office said the CEU will be led by Assistant District Attorney Helen Park, a veteran prosecutor who served the Commonwealth in the office’s Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting Unity, in addition to the Gun Violence Task Force.
ADA Park will be joined by nine prosecutors from the DAO’s Juvenile, Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting, and Major Trials units.
Because carjacking suspects frequently involve juveniles, said Krasner, ADA Yasmine Finnegan, who he said brings extensive experience in the youth justice system, will serve as Assistant Supervisor of the CEU and handle carjacking cases involving minors.
In order to pursue justice on behalf carjacking victims and impacted communities, the CEU. said Krasner, will draw on resources featuring forensic technology, criminal intelligence, and personnel from the DAO’s, Gun Violence Task Force, led by Assistant District Attorney William Fritze, and the DAO’s Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting Unit, led by Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore.
Accountability efforts to properly measure the CEU’s efficacy and outcomes will be conducted through data analysis by the DAO’s DATA Lab, the DA explained.
“This new unit will enable my office to pursue strong cases built on solid evidence in order to hold accountable those who are threatening the lives and security of Philadelphia residents. This initiative will help us more vigorously prosecute dangerous individuals such as 28-year-old Jonathan Akubu, who is right now off of the streets and behind bars with no bail awaiting his day in court,” said DA Krasner.
The DA noted Akubu was arrested earlier this year for his alleged role in multiple gunpoint car robberies that resulted in the deaths of two people, and non-fatal shootings of two other carjacking victims.
Krasner said Akubu in February was charged with two counts of murder, aggravated assault, and multiple illegal firearm possession charges, and may be responsible for more than four dozen gunpoint car robberies.
The investigation, added Krasner, of Akubu and his associates’ illicit activities is ongoing, and no trial date has been set yet.
“I’m extremely grateful to Mayor Kenney and our partners in City Council who worked hard to secure the funding for the CEU and who are prioritizing this very serious public safety issue, one that is inexorably linked to our gun violence crisis. I also commend Mayor Kenney for his commitment to prioritizing solutions to gun violence in his final term,” Krasner said.
ADA Helen Park stated, “Carjacking by its very nature puts everybody’s sense of safety and security in danger. So I very much welcome this chance to collaborate with all of our law enforcement and community partners to help restore a sense of safety for the people of this city.”
“My colleagues and I in City Council have allocated over $300 million dollars towards addressing crime prevention and gun violence reduction. I’m proud of the work City Council has done in this area, and I commend the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for focusing the resources we’ve given them in order to address the scourge of gun violence and other violent crime, such as carjackings, that are plaguing this city,” said Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr., Chairman of City Council’s Public Safety Committee (4th District).