Explainer: What will come from Mayor Parker’s public safety emergency order?

Chinatown philadelphia
Mayor Cherelle Parker speaks during Philadelphia’s 2024 Inauguration Tuesday, Jan. 2 at the Met.
Jack Tomczuk

One of new Mayor Cherelle Parker’s first actions in office – and perhaps her most attention-grabbing – was the executive order she signed declaring a “public safety emergency.”

But what is a public safety emergency? And what will it mean for residents?

A document with the language of the directive was shared publicly Wednesday, a day after Parker signed three orders hours after her inauguration.

The order instructs Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who was also sworn in Tuesday, to work with city Managing Director Adam K. Thiel, Finance Director Rob Dubow and Chief Public Safety Director Adam Geer to develop a plan within 100 days to increase the number of officers on patrol duty. They can consider measures reassigning current officers from administrative roles and attracting recruits.

Bethel is additionally tasked with devising a plan to address violent crime; quality-of-life issues (including retail theft and ATV/dirt bike use); and open-air drug markets, with the order specifically mentioning Kensington.

Thiel, the document says, will be investigating whether the Parker administration should seek additional emergency powers under local or state law.

The directive mandates Bethel to employ “any lawful means necessary” to address the emergency, and states that the PPD “shall vigorously enforce the existing laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the ordinances of the City of Philadelphia while protecting and respecting the constitutional rights of Philadelphia’s residents and visitors.”

Parker’s order took effect immediately, and the emergency period is set to expire after 100 days, though her administration could choose to extend it.

In 2021, prominent anti-violence Jamal Johnson went on hunger strike and protested outside City Hall for nearly a month in an attempt to get Mayor Jim Kenney to respond to a resolution declaring a gun violence emergency. Kenney ultimately resisted calls for such an order.

However, Johnson, who runs a group called Stop Killing Us, was not celebrating Parker’s order. He told Metro that he wants the mayor to call a “state of emergency” and mobilize resources, like the Kenney administration did during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When I heard it, I was very disappointed because nobody really knows what it means,” Johnson said Wednesday. “To me, it just meant that they’re going to develop something to address safety. It did not say, ‘We’re doing A, B, C, and D effective Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.’”

“I still think we all need to have a sense of urgency about the emergency, and I don’t think we do, just based on that speech she gave us yesterday,” he added.

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Anti-violence activist Jamal Johnson pushed Mayor Jim Kenney to respond to a gun violence emergency resolution.Metro file

Johnson said he does not oppose Parker and is willing to support her efforts to combat gun violence.

City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier sponsored the 2020 safety resolution, which did not refer to a “state of emergency.” In a statement Tuesday, she said she is “delighted that our neighborhoods finally have the public safety emergency declaration they need and deserve.”

“By signing this executive order on the first day of her administration, Mayor Parker sends a powerful message that she is ready to tackle our public safety emergency head-on,” added Gauthier, whose district is based in West Philadelphia.

The Parker administration did not respond to questions about the executive order Wednesday.

“We can have community policing and strengthen those police and community relationships,” Parker said during her inaugural address. “And we can have accountability at the same time where we have zero tolerance for any misuse and or abuse of authority.”