A bold-faced package splashed across the front page of Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer reports an “extraordinary decline” in Philadelphia homicides this year, which is likely to end with about 250 murders – 80 fewer than last year. That represents a 24 percent reduction compared to 2012, and would be the lowest tally since 1967.
City officials attribute the progress to a combination of data-driven law enforcement and old-school police work, targeting gun criminals and the most violent neighborhood “hot spots.”
As the report indicates, the drop this year is part of a downward trend in homicide in most big cities across the nation.
According to a recent report from ABC News, eight of the nation’s 10 largest cities have lower murder rates this year, with an average reduction of 15.9 percent.
Newsday reported in September that New York City murders had plummeted by 27 percent with three months to go in 2013, dipping to 1950s levels. As of November, Los Angeles homicides were down 13 percent, on pace for the lowest rate since 1966, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Chicago had recorded a 21 percent drop year-to-year, according to a Chicago Tribune report published in September, which noted however that the pace of improvement had “slowed sharply” during the summer months.
Similarly, the second half of the 2013 has shown an increase in Philadelphia homicides, compared to the first six months.
Philadelphia Police data indicate that 116 people were killed during the period from January through June. If the Inquirer projection for 250 total homicides is on target, the remaining 134 victims killed from July through December will represent a 15 percent spike in killings over the first half of the year.
The Inquirer report also spotlights the city’s “Focused Deterrence” program, which it correlates with a 47 percent decrease in South Philadelphia homicides this year. But it notes that other forces may be at work as well, including improved emergency-room survival rates for gunshot victims this year in Pennsylvania.
At the Gun Crisis Reporting Project, we also follow a network of community organizations working to reduce gun violence in Philadelphia.
As we reported last spring, homicides decreased by 21 percent and shootings were reduced by 11 percent in the city’s 22nd Police District with the support of Philadelphia CeaseFire, an evidence-based public health violence intervention program based at the Temple University School of Medicine.
Volunteers from Mothers in Charge — a grassroots Philadelphia community made up mostly of women who have lost loved ones to gun violence — conduct the Thinking for a Change Program to help incarcerated young people learn to make better decisions when they return to their communities.
City officials have also conceded that weather may have been a factor in early 2013. Phillyweather.net reported below-average temperatures in February, the coldest March since 2005, and the coolest start to April since 1992.
Before this year’s progress, the Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area — including Camden, N.J. and Wilmington, Del. — ended 2012 with the highest rate of homicide per capita among America’ largest cities, with 8.6 people murdered per 100,000 inhabitants.
That was more than double New York’s 3.8 homicides per 100,000, and higher than Chicago’s 7.1 rate. Chicago led the nation with 500 homicides in 2012 but has nearly 1.2 million more people than Philadelphia.
Homicides are on a pace to drop by about 20 percent this year in Camden, N.J. The Camden Trauma community group reported this year’s 52nd murder on Saturday, compared with an all-time high of 67 last year.
Wilmington, Del., has already matched last year’s homicide count — at 22 — and has set a new record this year with 150 total shooting victims, according to delawareonline.com.
The problem of gun violence “is more complex than simple slogans and requires careful study and analysis,” according to a report last week from the American Psychological Association. The group concluded that reducing gun violence at the community level demands “a comprehensive, coordinated approach taking advantage of the training and skills of law enforcement, educators and mental health providers.”