It’s A Crime How We Budget To Address The Murder Rate In Philadelphia

“GIRL, 5 SHOT DEAD,” “Violent crime up in the city,” “HOW MANY MORE?” — the headlines are written in black and white, but the blood that spills on the streets of Philadelphia is a sickening red. Citizens from every corner of the city are looking to City Hall for help stemming the tide of blood, but Philadelphia’s elected leaders seem unable to articulate a strategy to end this horrible epidemic of violence.

As detailed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s latest report, Philadelphia is the worst of the nation’s top-ten cities when it comes to violent crime. Philadelphia boasted 1,476 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2005 — more than twice New York City’s rate of only 673 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Nationally, 2005 data showed that the violent-crime rate inched up by 1.3 percent, while in Philadelphia, violent crime was up by 3.4 percent, including a 15-percent increase in homicides. Clearly some other places are doing a better job fighting crime than Philadelphia.

Murders and violence may seem disconnected from the city budget, but in the end, we turn to government for help and, ultimately, look to the city budget for resources to address our problems, whether it be murders in our neighborhoods or trash on our streets. It is through the budget process that we determine how to use our scarce resources to improve life in Philadelphia.

The real crime might be how Philadelphia’s government approaches issues including crime fighting, and that starts from the process to apportion city resources. Simply put, Philadelphia’s budget — the document that defines how to raise and spend the public's money — is about inputs, not outputs or outcomes. We argue about the number of cops on the street, not the number of bodies in the morgue; we debate whether we should increase funding instead of whether we should improve the consequences of government action.

Philadelphia’s leaders budget for political cover while other jurisdictions budget for results. We create a budget to document government’s good intentions, not to solve problems.

Other cities and states are focusing their governments on results during the budget process. For example, the State of Washington uses surveys and focus groups to articulate ten top priorities for the state, and then officials allocate funding to achieve goals. They track quantifiable measures to test whether government is creating the results demanded by state residents. Washington officials review and rank agency program proposals and fund programs they believe will be effective in generating those results. The cities of Dallas and Los Angeles have embarked on similar initiatives to more closely link budgets with outcomes. These experiences in other jurisdictions show that it is possible to relate spending and programs to prioritized outcomes desired by the citizenry. Philadelphia would be wise to approach future decisions about how to raise and spend money in a similar manner.

We can do better in Philadelphia. Rather than beginning each budget cycle considering small increases or decreases to last year’s budget, the Mayor and City Council can work with the citizenry — through surveys, focus groups, and other public processes — to determine the results we are trying to achieve. We can create performance measures to judge successful programs and then prioritize spending based on the programs’ effectiveness. For example, to reduce murders in Philadelphia, the Police Department could propose to add officers on the street, the courts could propose to expand probation supervision for ex-offenders, the Recreation Department could propose additional after-school programs, and the Health Department could offer programs for drug-abuse treatment. Real data and performance measurement can help the Mayor and Council determine the right mix of programs to achieve the results prioritized by the citizenry within the budget.

Unless we change the way we approach the problems that beset our city, we will never make Philadelphia The mother of a murder victim finds no comfort in the fact that we spent Widows and orphans take no solace in the count of police on the street. the city we know it should be. more fighting crime.

The citizenry demands outcomes, but Philadelphia’s government focuses on inputs. The people want results, but city politicians talk about effort. By changing the way we approach crime and other issues — and by budgeting for outcomes — we can focus attention on creating a government that works and a government that makes a positive difference in the lives of Philadelphians. Maybe then, we can see fewer headlines that turn our stomachs and more news that gladdens our hearts.