WHYY – In recent months, the specter of crime has been a central talking point in Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano’s campaign for governor. At a recent campaign stop in the Lehigh Valley, Mastriano claimed crime across the commonwealth had risen 37% since his opponent, Democrat Josh Shapiro, took office as attorney general in 2017. Criminals, he said, “walk free.”
It was a misleading statistic.
Murder and non-negligent homicide did increase nearly 38% statewide from 2017 to 2021 — the last full year of data — according to Pennsylvania’s Uniform Crime Reporting System. But the increase only became notable in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which corresponded with a broad increase in violent crime across the country.
Motor vehicle theft also increased from 2017 to 2021. But rates of rape, robbery, assault, burglary, and larceny all decreased during that period.
Crime and public safety will likely continue to headline campaign stops in the lead-up to the midterm elections. Pennsylvanians consistently tell pollsters and political researchers that the issue is among their chief concerns as they get ready to elect a new governor.
With that in mind, here’s what Shapiro and Mastriano have said they plan to do if they win.
While Mastriano has tried to paint Shapiro as a criminal justice reformer in the mold of Philadelphia’s anti-mass-incarceration district attorney, Larry Krasner, Shapiro’s record and stated plans look significantly different from Krasner’s.
He has highlighted positions and accomplishments that set him apart from some Democrats — for instance, that he wants to invest state money in police officer recruitment to hire more than 2,000 new officers and fill shortages, and that he “arrested an average of four drug dealers a day” as attorney general.
While in office, he was sometimes the more conservative Democratic voice on criminal justice issues. In his capacity on the pardons board, for instance, Shapiro reportedly clashed with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, now running for U.S. Senate, over how aggressively to seek commutations for certain longtime prisoners. Shapiro, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, was one of the board members likeliest to oppose freeing prisoners, on the grounds that he was concerned for public safety.
Shapiro does have several areas where he advocates for reform.
He has made a particular issue of ghost guns — weapons that can be bought, in pieces, online and assembled at home, and which are untraceable — working to crack down on them as attorney general, and advocating for a new federal rule requiring a background check for purchases of gun parts.
Shapiro also notes that Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn’t fund public defense for indigent defendants, that the commonwealth’s incarceration rate is notably high, and that Black Pennsylvanians made up a disproportionate number of people in prison and are less likely to trust the justice system.
He has said that as governor, he wants to work with police on “smart, data-driven criminal justice reform,” fund indigent defense, use red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who might hurt themselves or others, and “expand treatment options” for non-violent offenders. He also opposes mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty, and while he said he still supports steep bail and sentences for violent offenders, he wants to reform cash bail in non-violent cases.
Doug Mastriano’s public safety plans
Apart from blaming Shapiro for crime increases, Mastriano’s stated plan has been more general.
He has said that he plans to “hold elected officials accountable for enforcing the law and prosecuting crime,” and wrote on his campaign website that “if they won’t do their jobs, Mastriano will remove them.”
That’s a reference to Krasner, who House Republicans are attempting to impeach for, they allege, not enforcing state laws well enough. Democrats, particularly from Philly, have called the impeachment attempt “political theater” and a distraction from the real issues facing the city, like an inability to set its own, stricter gun laws. The governor typically plays no role in impeaching a public official, which requires a majority vote in the House and two thirds in the Senate.
Like Shapiro, Mastriano has said he wants to make sure police have enough funding. He also says he wants to “keep violent criminals behind bars where they belong” and “strengthen penalties for repeat offenders and those convicted of violent crime.”
Mastriano also said he won’t hesitate to call in the National Guard to “protect law-abiding citizens and businesses” in the event of political unrest.