The five Democrats best positioned to win their party’s nomination for Philadelphia mayor have landed on a central pitch: The city needs a bigger role for police. Responding to historically high crime, the top Democratic candidates have called for measures such as more patrol officers, bolstered detective ranks and faster 911 response They are debating the merits of police investigative stops—often called “stop-and-frisk”— to get illicit guns off the streets. They have also called for expanded violence-prevention efforts, increased youth employment and other steps that don’t involve law enforcement, the Wall Street Journal reports. Crime is “the No. 1 issue by every measurement,” said Democratic consultant Neil Oxman. “It’s rational things, like: ‘We have to hire more police officers.’ ” The winner of the Democratic primary on Tuesday will likely become the city's 100th mayor, as registered Democrats in the city outnumber Republicans 7 to 1.
The only independent public poll found a statistical tie between five of the nine Democrats. Former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart earned 18%, trailed by three former city council members—Cherelle Parker (17%), Helen Gym (15%) and Allan Domb (14%). Jeff Brown, founder of a family-owned grocery chain, came in at 11%. Philadelphia had a record 562 homicides in 2021. While the toll has eased, killings remain far more common than a decade ago. Surveys show crime is voters’ top concern. Talk of a stepped-up police role comes after a push by many Democrats in the opposite direction after the 2020 George Floyd murder. Three of the five leading candidates—Parker, Gym and Domb—were on the city council that year when it opposed a $14 million police budget increase. Rhynhart said she would move officers to beat patrols from specialized units or desk jobs and work to cut 911 response times. “We spend in Philly close to about $800 million a year on policing, but many people don’t feel safe,” said Rhynhart, 48, who has worked as city budget director, is endorsed by the three most recent mayors. Rhynhart is vying for liberal voters with Gym, who has support from the teachers union and progressive leaders such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Gym gained local prominence as an education activist and won a citywide council seat in 2015. She supports shifting police officers to foot and bike patrols, while adding detectives to help solve violent crimes. She backs scaling up a pilot program that diverts certain 911 calls away from police, including some mental-health calls.