Cops in Philadelphia Targets of Gunmen

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In Philadelphia, gun violence has reached near-epidemic levels. People are getting shot and killed at a pace not seen in years. On average, one person is dying by bullet every single day.

Police are being targeted, too. Many have been shot at, and in the past seven weeks, six officers have been hit … all in the line of duty. One was even killed. He responded to a call at a donut shop, not knowing the disturbed person inside was armed and ready to fire. The officer had his weapon unholstered and at his side when he walked through the front door, and the would-be robber became an assassin, putting a bullet in the 54-year-old policeman's head.

The suspect was caught the next day, the same day Officer Charles Cassidy died.

I've been to Philly to cover many of the recent shootings, including the murders of two retired cops, who were working as armored car guards and were shot at close range by a career criminal looking for a big score.

Every time we go to Philadelphia we wind up at police headquarters and I find the soon-to-be-retired police commissioner Sylvester Johnson wearily answering the same questions, seemingly powerless to do much to stop the violence.

They haven't given up, of course. The department has special teams of highly trained veterans targeting high crime areas with increased patrols and aggressive stops and searches designed to limit or discourage drug and gang activity and to keep corners clear.

They've reached out to community and church leaders, launching campaigns to get more civilians involved in keeping neighborhoods safe.

Arrests and seizures are at an all-time high, but Johnson knows he can't arrest his way out of the problem, and he can't talk the criminals out of stealing or dealing or robbing or killing either.

He says there are simply too many illegal handguns on the street, and too many troubled kids with severely limited resources and opportunities who see few options. Johnson wants federal help; programs to help the young and the poor find a better future. He added that tougher gun laws are needed to make it far more difficult to buy a pistol on the street, especially for the16-year-old recently arrested for allegedly shooting two undercover narcotics cops. It was a .357 Magnum. He allegedly opened fire out the ground floor window of a crack house, hitting one cop in the hip and the other in the leg as they tried to use a battering ram to break down the door.

He's 16, with a prior record who was shooting at cops, apparently feeling he had nothing to lose.

"Homeland Security is important," the Commissioner likes to say, "but so is Hometown Security."

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Rick Leventhal has been a New York-based correspondent with the FOX News Channel since June 1997. You can read his bio here.