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Research funded in part by the Arlen Specter Center Research Fellowship.


From 1962 to 1968, gang stabbings and murders in Philadelphia drastically increased, inspiring Philadelphia District Attorney Arlen Specter (from 1965-1973) to establish Safe Streets, Inc. in August 1969 as a non-profit, anti-gang program designed to reduce gang violence, end turf wars between rival gangs, and provide social services like job training and academic tutoring to juveniles. Since the program came into existence amidst the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968), numerous cases of police brutality, and over 200 race riots in post-industrial cities, the yearly Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) grant from the federal government offered to cities under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 became appealing to liberal and conservative politicians alike. Many conservative city officials often conflated civil rights protestors, rioters, social activists, and gang members into a single entity that was a constant nuisance to the police. Additionally, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s proposition of the Great Society programs, War on Poverty and War on Crime, led liberals and conservatives to debate on how to reduce crime with the LEAA grant. Conservatives argued police departments should receive the LEAA grant to spend on strengthening its crime-fighting methods. Conversely, liberals lobbied for the funds to finance local social uplift programs that would gradually rectify the issue of urban poverty and effectively reduce crime. Although the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968 federally enforced desegregation and equal opportunity employment, voting, and housing respectively, several conservative politicians like Mayor Frank L. Rizzo (from 1972-1980) refused to believed that curing the social ills of poverty, unemployment, and school dropouts would result in massive crime reduction in major cities like Philadelphia. From 1969 to 1976, Specter competed with Mayor Frank Rizzo for funding to rehabilitate youth at Safe Streets’ centers in the predominantly black neighborhoods of North and West Philadelphia while Rizzo proposed to utilize the grant to strengthen crime-fighting techniques within the police department. Nevertheless, the battle over federal funding between liberal and conservative politicians influenced police-community relations in the 1970s when violence between police and citizens in Philadelphia was at its highest in forty years.