Philadelphians on Tuesday got a glimpse of how their future district attorney may seek to handle police-involved shootings—an issue that speaks directly to each candidates’ political base.
Facing off for the first time since the May primary, Democratic candidate Larry Krasner and Republican candidate Beth Grossman outlined their positions on a wide range of issues from how they would manage the office to how they might investigate officer-involved shootings. The Philadelphia Bar Association hosted the event, with Charles Gibbs, president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia and co-chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s city policy committee, moderating.
Gibbs’ questions turned to the topic of the relationship between the prosecutor’s office and police early in the forum, and throughout the event he asked about whether the candidates would use secret grand juries or special prosecutors when investigating officer-involved shootings and what steps each candidate would take to “bridge the gap” between the varied interests within the community. Specifically, Gibbs asked the candidates about how they would seek to bring together Black Lives Matter, which was involved in a protest outside the home of a police officer who fatally shot a man, and the FOP, the leader of which later referred to those protesters as a “pack of rabid animals.”In response to the question about bridging the gap, Grossman noted she had been endorsed by the FOP, but said she disagreed with “name-calling on any side.”
“I am my own thinking being,” she said.
Ultimately, she said, the issue comes down to all the parties communicating together.
“I don’t know whether we can bridge the gap between the FOP and Asa Khalif [a Philadelphia-based Black Lives Matter organizer who has been involved in Krasner's campaign], but we can bridge the gap between the interest of Black Lives Matter and the District Attorney’s Office,” she said.
Krasner, who has been supportive of Black Lives Matter, defended the protesters as exercising their First Amendment rights, and said both Black Lives Matter and police in Philadelphia have varied interests, some of which may align.
“Ultimately, the good cops feel the same way I do, which is, they hate bad cops,” he said.
The candidates differed greatly on several topics, but neither candidate’s stances changed significantly since the primary season, when a total of eight contenders—seven of them democrats—vied for their parties’ nominations. That meant, for Krasner, his focus was portraying himself as an outsider and reformer for the office, while Grossman touted her more than 20 years of experience as a prosecutor within the office.
On the use of grand juries for investigating officer-involved shootings, Krasner also took a firm stance, saying they have been used “to make sure police officers never get indicted.”
“They don’t use grand juries for everybody who’s not a cop,” he said. “If probable cause exists for a crime, not a mistake, but a crime, then that officer should be charged.”
Grossman, however, said transparency is the best policy, but she would not rule out using a confidential grand jury if circumstances warranted.
Krasner was less opposed to using a special prosecutor for investigating police issues, but said his office might not need them, since he had previously litigated against police officers in civil rights cases.
Grossman said she had more experience on the issue, as she has worked in the District Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit.
“If the evidence is there, they’re getting charged. Period,” she said.
When questioned about internal policies for running the office, Krasner said he would use a cabinet-style office with between seven and 10 close advisers, and Grossman said she would seek to increase communication between the top position and the line-assistant district attorneys.
Both candidates said they would not prosecute safe-injection sites for heroin users, although Grossman said the sites would need to first go through the city’s formal zoning process. But, on the issue of diversionary programs, the candidates also sharply differed.
Grossman said she would keep all the programs already in place and seek to expand the programs further.
“We’re only limited by our creativity,” she said.
Krasner, however, said the diversionary programs had become bloated and had only expanded because of favoritism within the office.
“The reason we have so many, is that it was a career builder,” he said. “A lot of them should be consolidated and synthesized.”