Philadelphians will vote for a new District Attorney on May 16, and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia recently reached out to all District Attorney candidates to ask them how, as Philadelphia’s District Attorney, they would deal with streets safety issues. Below, find District Attorney candidate Larry Krasner’s answers to our questionnaire. Krasner is a Civil Rights attorney and is running for office on a progressive platform. Find out more about him here.
1. What increased role can the District Attorney take in improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists on Philadelphia’s streets?
I have been a cyclist since childhood and a frequent bicycle commuter (20 mile roundtrip) from Northwest Philadelphia for about a decade. My wife frequently commutes by bicycle as well. Despite our taking care and using appropriate technology (e.g. lighting, helmets, reflective clothing), we have had our share of minor accidents and nearly missed major accidents involving vehicles while commuting on our bicycles. A family member who is very close to me suffered a skull fracture while riding a bicycle when struck by a turning car many years ago that required about 6 months prior to full recovery. Another in-law has been instrumental for a decade or more in establishing a successful high school mountain biking league in Colorado that is centered in Boulder.
In addition, I have supported Gearing Up (and my friend Kristin Gavin when she was Gearing Up’s director) in a variety of ways because Gearing Up combines two of my passions—cycling and criminal justice reform. On occasion, as Plaintiff’s counsel, I have also represented cyclists who were injured in cycling accidents with vehicles in Philadelphia. Needless to say, based upon this experience and for all these reasons bicycle safety and pedestrian safety are near and dear to my heart.
As District Attorney, I see three ways of improving safety. The first is to exercise my discretion as District Attorney to look carefully at all vehicular accidents with pedestrians and cyclists (and possibly all vehicular accidents) involving serious injury or death with an eye toward carefully distinguishing between mere negligence (which is essentially a minor error) and criminal behavior (which is extreme error or intentional conduct). These distinctions are often determinable by looking carefully at all the circumstances of the participants and the accident (speed, right of way, lighting, road conditions, presence or absence of intoxication, driving record, etc.), and the conduct immediately following the accident (e.g. flight vs. stopping and rendering aid, etc.).
My sense is that prior District Attorneys have been disinterested in bringing criminal charges in all but the most outrageous cases (driving 80 mph in a 25 zone while drunk and then fleeing, etc.) and sometime look the other way or try treat certain drivers better than others if those drivers are in law enforcement or otherwise connected. There is no good reason why only the most egregious cases should result in criminal charges.
A larger group are appropriately charged where the requisite criminal mental state is apparent from the circumstances. Obviously, this does not mean that all accidents should result in criminal charges. But it does mean that the District Attorney’s Office’s culture of largely ignoring fatalities and severe injuries from accidents unless egregious circumstances are obvious must go. The second way of improving safety is to use the District Attorney’s position as a bully pulpit to advocate for policies and possibly city ordinances and/or legislation that promotes safety–including drawing attention to cycling, walking and use of public transit myself by example (yes, the DA’s Office could use an indoor bicycle parking lot and some form of shower access if possible for its 600 employees). I view this as an essential role. The third way is to participate as a member of a team of stakeholders in the determination of regulatory and legislative measures that will further the Draft Vision Zero Action Plan. As District Attorney, I will pursue all of these ways of improving safety.
2. Do you believe in Mayor Kenney’s Vision Zero policy and goal to reach zero deaths by 2030? What do you think of Mayor Kenney’s draft Vision Zero Action Plan?
Absolutely. I have reviewed the entire plan. The only thing I would suggest adding is a more extensive look at other jurisdictions’ laws and policies (e.g. Colorado’s ‘slow/stop, look and go’ approach for cyclists at red lights, which shows some evidence of enhancing safety—sorry I can’t remember the exact terminology on this) in addition to looking at NYC Administrative Code 19-190.
4. Too often, severe crashes occur and there is little information provided to the public about how those motorists are ultimately charged. Will you improve transparency of information about charges filed against motorists who are responsible for crashes that cause fatalities or severe injuries?
Yes. As District Attorney, I intend to increase transparency in all aspects of discretionary decision making, including in relation to information about charges filed against motorists who are responsible for fatal and severe crashes.
5. Will you propose changes to the City vehicle code to improve road safety and further implement Vision Zero and which kinds of changes will you prioritize?
Yes. As noted above, I support the Draft Vision Zero policy and I invite more detailed input from all stakeholders in light of experience in other jurisdictions, including New York, Colorado, Washington State, etc.. However, despite my extensive personal experience and current beliefs, I will not pre-judge these issues without input from all stakeholders. Alienating stakeholders and their communities by pre-judging these issues without their input is extremely unwise.
6. Will you introduce “restorative justice” and other alternative sentencing practices as part of the pre-plea conference for vehicular violence cases, with the input of victims and families?
As the most progressive candidate for District Attorney (this is undisputed), restorative justice is integral to my platform. A victim/survivor-centered criminal justice system that gives victims and survivors more alternatives than jail or acquittal increases participation of victims and survivors and provides them with alternatives that increase safety and closure for them in ways they appreciate. This is not to say that victims and survivors determine prosecutorial decision making, but it does mean that their wishes are carefully considered and options such as diversion of non-serious matters and alternatives to jail are in play. Among others, these alternative sentencing and conditional diversionary options include taking responsibility, hearing from the victims/survivors, apologizing, doing community service (especially community service directed against the type of harm caused), undergoing treatment and training to decrease the chance of future unsafe behavior, etc..
7. Will you create driver diversion programs for certain traffic code offenders as an alternative to jail time or fines?
Yes, to the extent that these matters come within my jurisdiction. For example, PennDot is not controlled by the District Attorney’s Office. However, my platform is aimed at increasing diversion for many types non-serious offenses, decreasing mass incarceration, and ending the cycle of poverty (e.g. by ending cash bail and unequal treatment in civil asset forfeiture and use of fines and costs unequally against poor people) that our criminal justice system currently exacerbates while enabling resources to move from costly mass incarceration toward public education, job training and other measures that decrease crime in the long term and heal society. In essence, my platform is a prevention model (prevention of crime) similar to our more generally accepted prevention model in medicine. Given Philadelphia’s alarming rate of chronic disease and persistently high rates of crime and poverty, it makes sense to move toward prevention models on both the medical and criminal justice frontiers. I believe the Vision Zero Draft is headed in those directions.
8. How will you work with the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department to craft strategic enforcement of Vision Zero measures?
I expect to have strong allies in our mostly progressive leadership: the Mayor, Police Commissioner, City Council members, state legislators and Pa. Attorney General. At least as important is working with various forward thinking non-profits and community groups, especially those involved in cycling and pedestrian activities and those most affected in certain neighborhoods. I view Vision Zero strategic enforcement as a team effort of all these players on behalf of their constituencies and believe the bones of that effort are already in place in the Vision Zero Draft Plan.