Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Rendell soft on crime

One day after the FBI released a report showing that violent crime is on the rise across the United States and one day after GOP challenger Lynn Swann unveiled an ambitious anti-crime plan involving hiring up to 5,000 more police officers in Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell decided it was time to do something about crime.

Rendell announced $10 million in "Police on Patrol" grants to be awarded to police departments across the state to help them hire additional officers.

It's good to be the incumbent governor. You can pull money out of your pocket anytime you need to counter stinging criticism of your record.

Rendell, the former district attorney and two-term mayor of Philadelphia, has been oblivious to the rising crime rate in most of Pennsylvania's cities, including his beloved Philadelphia.

Is Pennsylvania a more dangerous place to live since Ed Rendell became governor? It sure is. The FBI statistics show it. Philadelphia's murder-a-day pace backs up those numbers.

And what is Gov. Rendell's solution to the deadly violence plaguing many Pennsylvania cities? The old liberal standby: Gun control. Rendell is pushing the legislature to enact a bill to limit gun purchases to one per day.

While that sounds like a reasonable approach, what are the odds that people who are gunning down their fellow Pennsylvanians purchased their gun at a store and filled out all the proper paperwork? Drug dealers, ex-cons and other low-lifes don't buy guns at gun shops. They buy them off the street or steal them. Limiting gun purchases to one a day is political pandering to pretend you're addressing the problem. It's what Rendell specializes in.

After four years of neglecting crime, Rendell is pretending he's serious about the issue. Does the fact that the election is less than 50 days away have anything to do with Rendell's new-found interest in fighting crime?

Today is the 263rd day of 2006. So far this year, 274 people have been murdered in Philadelphia. The city has already broken its previous year's homicide total of 272 and we still have a hundred days left in the year. More than 1,200 Philadelphia residents have been shot this year.

And it's not just a Philadelphia problem. Reading, which has a population of 80,000, had a total of 936 violent crimes reported in 2005, including 22 homicides. Two police officers have been killed in the line of duty by gunfire in the streets of Reading since 2004.

Allentown, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, York, Altoona, Chester, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport. You name any city of significant size in Pennsylvania and you've got a problem with violent crime.

"Police on Patrol will provide the funding necessary to ramp up police presence on city streets and help to begin to stem the flow of illegal gun running, random violent acts against innocent citizens and drug trafficking across our commonwealth," Rendell said Tuesday in announcing the grants.

The question I have is where has Rendell been since 2003? Why wasn't this money delivered to police departments earlier? The answer is painfully clear: While people are dying on the streets of our cities, the governor is waiting until an opportune time to make the biggest political impact with this money.

Swann's approach is more comprehensive. If elected, Swann said he would authorize putting up to 5,000 additional law enforcement officers on the streets of Pennsylvania's largest cities by 2010.

At a campaign stop in Philadelphia, Swann said he would also increase enforcement of current gun laws, expand community-based crime fighting programs and create a "drug dealer registry" similar to sex offender registries, according to the Associated Press.

Rendell's plan is much more limited in scope. For three years, $50,000 grants will be awarded annually to selected communities who will commit to hiring new police officers for street patrols and will keep them on staff after the state funds expire, according to a Rendell news release.

Swann also said he would urge the legislature to enact legislation establishing a mandatory 25-year minimum prison term for some child sex offenders, with lifetime satellite monitoring after they are released. Seventeen states have enacted versions of the measure, called "Jessica's Law" for a 9-year-old Florida girl who was raped and murdered, the AP reported.

John Perzel, the Republican speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, has floated a plan to hire 10,000 more cops by 2010. Perzel's idea will be debated during the upcoming Committee of the Whole in the state House scheduled for Sept. 26.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, who joined Swann in Philadelphia, said that law enforcement "has not been the focus" of the Rendell administration. That's an understatement.

When it comes to fighting crime and protecting the citizens of Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell has been AWOL.

Returning to TV

I'’ll be making a return appearance on the "Journalists Roundtable" program this Thursday at 8 p.m. on the Pennsylvania Cable Network Check your local cable service for the channel. PCN will repeat the one-hour program Sunday at 7 p.m. and again at 11 p.m.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

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