Cherelle Parker has won the Democratic primary election for Philadelphia’s next Mayor. Given the city’s heavy partisan lean, she’s now widely expected to win the general election in November. Parker’s agenda includes significant increases in police funding, and she opposes safe consumption sites.
Parker earned 32 percent of the overall vote in the May 16 primary—winning a plurality over eight other Democratic candidates. She will face David Oh, the Repubican candidate, in the general on November 7, as the incumbent, Jim Kenney (D), completes his second and final term.
Parker, who would become the first Black woman to hold the office, is a former member of the City Council, where she served as majority leader. The reasons for her victory, and what it signals for progressive politics and the “defund the police” movement, will continue to be analyzed. But key points in her policy platform indicate her approach to public safety—and polls suggested that crime was the top issue for voters going into the election.
Parker’s agenda includes filling 175 vacant officer positions that the city has already funded, and then adding 125 new officer positions—which will require additional money.
Philadelphia has experienced growing homicide rates in recent years. Its highest recorded number was in 2021, with 562 lives lost, and that total fell only slightly in 2022. Most of these deaths involved firearms. However, overall shootings have stayed constant, with 1,791 non-fatal shootings in 2022. Eight in 10 homicide victims are Black, with half aged 18-30.
Parker’s plan includes hiring 300 additional police officers. Besides gun violence, she says she wants to address “quality of life” issues (a term used to refer to graffiti, abandoned cars and trash dumping, for example), to support victim and witness services, and to invest more in “community engagement.” And she’s calling for more surveillance cameras to be installed around the city.
Debates over the police department and its budget are likely to remain central to Philly politics. Despite the national movement against police brutality gaining great momentum from 2020, the trend in Philadelphia has been to consistently increase police funding. The budget now is $150 million higher than when Kenney took office in 2015. The Philadelphia Police Department is the largest city agency by funding, taking up about 14 percent of the whole budget. In April, the department requested yet another increase, up to a total of $885 million for the 2024 budget year.
Parker’s detailed policing agenda includes filling 175 vacant officer positions that the city has already funded, and then adding 125 new officer positions—which will require additional money. These 300 new officers, she has said, should be focused on foot and bike patrols throughout the city. She wants to speed up the police recruitment and graduation process—and calls for an additional $1 million to help. She also wants some roles in the department—like delivering mail or directing traffic—to be transferred to civilians in order to free up more officers for direct policing. And she calls for for an “analysis” to determine how much money should be allocated to updating the police forensics lab with newer technology.
Parker also supports another deeply controversial practice: stop-and-frisk. Used for decades in Philadelphia, it was strongly embraced in more recent years by former Mayor Michael Nutter (D, 2008-2016). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that in 2009, Philly police made more stops per capita than any other city nationwide—of Black and Latinx residents about 90 percent of the time. The ACLU successfully sued the city in 2010 to stop making stops based on race, and to mandate that police collect data on all stops.
“We cannot afford to take any legal tool away from law enforcement so that they can ensure that our public health and safety is our No. 1 priority.”
Mayor Jim Kenney promised to end stop-and-frisk, and stops have decreased during his time in office—but they have still continued, with Kenney clarifying he just wants to prevent racial profiling. The ACLU found in 2020 that Black residents are still targeted by the stops, of which one third are made without reasonable suspicion.
“Stop-and-frisk never went away,” Parker told gun violence outlet The Trace in 2022. “It is here as a result of a court precedent, Terry vs Ohio. The constitutional employment of this policing tool is something that is necessary in the city of Philadelphia.”
“We cannot afford to take any legal tool away from law enforcement so that they can ensure that our public health and safety is our No. 1 priority,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer in April.
Parker’s public safety plan does include some non-police measures. Its “community engagement and investment” component focuses on programs to address people’s social and economic needs, aimed at expanding access to jobs, education, mentoring, housing, health care and food. It describes “Investing in trusted messengers who can aid in the resolution of neighborhood conflict,” and taking advantage of state and federal funding to support community violence intervention work, with a focus on schools and young people.
Community violence intervention can take many forms, but it broadly means engaging trusted community members and peers to work with vulnerable people and address their needs, to stop violence before it happens. Research shows it is an effective strategy, and saves cities money that is otherwise spent on police, courts and health care costs.
Philadelphia allocated $209 million on violence prevention programs for fiscal year 2023, which includes “community empowerment, employment and careers, healing, prevention, and safe havens for children and youth.” In 2021, Philadelphia launched a city-level group violence intervention program working in neighborhoods most affected by shootings. An independent evaluation showed that it is working—hundreds of people have been directly contacted and connected with services, and these contacts are associated with fewer shootings.
Yet these effective, nonviolent strategies receive just a fraction of the funding allocated to police, and that disparity looks set to continue.
Parker has gone on record opposing safe consumption sites.
Philadelphia’s severe overdose crisis played what one advocate described as a “minimal role” in the Democratic primary. But Parker, if she becomes mayor, would have a major influence, and the signs aren’t good for harm reduction.
Advocates have fought for years to open a safe consumption site run by Safehouse, a strongly-evidenced resource where people can use drugs with staff and overdose prevention resources on hand. Parker has gone on record opposing safe consumption sites.
In 2020, she said of community opposition to the sites: “People are going to try to guilt-trip you, say that you don’t have any compassion, that you don’t have any empathy. But when you are a homeowner, what is going there will have an impact not just on your quality of life but on the value of what could be your only asset. You have a right to speak.”
With or without Safehouse, the next mayor will be under pressure regarding conditions in the Kensington neighborhood, where concerns about the unhoused population and drug use have featured in the mayoral campaign. Like other Democratic candidates, Parker has supported calls to declare a state of emergency in Kensington. But would this emphasize more social support and help for people in need, or just more police and enforcement?