Homicides drop sharply in Philadelphia and New York, but unequal rates persist

Philadelphia may be within reach of a “modern-day low” for homicides at the end of 2013, according to Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, which reported that 115 victims confirmed so far this year represent “the lowest midyear total in nearly half a century.”

Police investigate a fatal shooting in West Oak Lane. Reports say the the victim was responding to an online ad to buy an ATV. Photograph for the Gun Crisis Reporting Project by Joseph Kaczmarek.

Police investigate a fatal shooting in Philadelphia. Reports say the the victim was responding to an online ad to buy an ATV. Photograph for the Gun Crisis Reporting Project by Joseph Kaczmarek.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported a significant drop for the first half of this year in New York City as well, from 202 to 154.

However, while suffering 39 more homicides than Philadelphia this year, New York City is also home to nearly 5.5 times as many people, according to 2010 census data. So, Philadelphia’s 2013 homicide rate is more than four times as great.

In other words, if Philadelphia was on pace with New York City for homicides per capita, only 28 people would have been killed so far this year. Had New York City suffered at Philadelphia’s rate, they would have counted 649 murder victims by now.

Last month for example, the New York Daily News shouted “Mayhem” when 25 people were shot across the city in 48 hours. But per capita, almost four times as many people were shot in Philadelphia during the same period.

The year-to-date progress in Philadelphia remains remarkable and the Inquirer cites numerous city reforms — including the recently acclaimed GunStat program — but other factors may be in play as well.

Philadelphia CeaseFire, a public health intervention program based on Chicago’s Cure Violence, also expanded operations last year. During CeaseFire’s first year in Philadelphia’s 22nd Police District, homicides decreased by 21 percent and shootings were reduced by 11 percent, according to director Marla Davis Bellamy.

A complex network of nonprofit, grassroots and informal programs has also been at work. But there is one obvious difference between 2012 and 2013:

During his “State of Crime in Philadelphia,” address last fall, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams attributed last year’s ten percent increase in Philadelphia homicides to the “ecology of crime,” citing the unusually warm weather in January 2012 — when the city suffered an unusually high rate of more than one murder per day.

Weather may have been a factor this year as well, as we noted earlier this spring when Phillyweather.net reported below-average temperatures in February, the coldest March since 2005, and the coolest start to April since 1992.

When the weather improved this May, we counted 131 shooting victims across the city, the highest monthly total we have seen since launching the Gun Crisis Reporting Project.

Forty people were shot in the first ten days of June, but we are anticipating a strong month-to-month reduction — with fewer than 100 victims reported as we approach the end of the month. At the same time, Philadelphia is coming out of the wettest June on record.

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Evidence markers litter the crime scene where a man was shot and killed last week in Philadelphia. Photographs for the Gun Crisis Reporting Project by Joseph Kaczmarek.

If you want to get involved in gun violence reduction in Philadelphia, please consider volunteering your time or making a donation to one of the organizations listed under our Network tab at the top of this site. If you would like us to add your group to our list, please email us at info@guncrisis.org.
The Gun Crisis Reporting Project is an award-winning, independent, nonprofit journalism community striving to illuminate the epidemic of homicide by gunfire in Philadelphia — and to find solutions.

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