Homicides in Philadelphia continue to show a downward trend into the new year.
There were 238 homicides in 2014 in Philadelphia, according to city police. That’s a 30 percent decline since 2012 when there were 331 killings.
Law enforcement officials readily point out that much of the violent crime in Philadelphia is caused by violent repeat offenders and that in most homicide cases, the victims and the shooter knew each other and both had a history of run-ins with the law.
“We know that crime is committed by a relatively small number of people,” said Police Charles Ramsey at a recent Tribune editorial board meeting. “It is often the same individuals committing crimes over and over again. In Philadelphia there are approximately 50,000 adults on county probation or parole and another 9,000 adults on state parole. In addition there are 6,000 juveniles under supervision and an estimated 2,810 outstanding arrest warrants for offenders in the city.”
Ramsey said even within the criminal population there are sub groups of offenders. About 10 percent of the juvenile offenders are at high risk for committing a violent crime. For adults about 6,000 fall into the high risk category. Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross said that without strong moral values passed on by families and a solid education, at-risk children, that is, children who have been abused, neglected and exposed to criminal elements are headed for serious problems when they get older.
“I saw it all the time in homicide,” Ross said. “But what’s always been disturbing to me is that after everything we as a people have been through, our shared history of suffering and overcoming the odds, that we should settle for this environment of self-annihilation. Much of what we see on the streets starts in the home, with fractured families and young people aren’t nurtured in an environment of love and where moral values aren’t taught. Without those values and without education there aren’t too many options. You know where these kids are headed when they grow up.”
While law enforcement officials point out that while most of the city’s homicides are committed by violent repeat offenders, most of the robberies and property crimes are crimes of opportunity. Economic problems are just one factor contributing to criminal behavior, officials said.
“There are a lot of factors that have contributed to the underlying causes of the crime and violence. There’s an underground economy that operates in the inner cities that emerged when industrial jobs went overseas and across the border,” said Elijah Anderson, the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University.
Anderson is an author and is one of the leading urban ethnographers in the United States. He said when the nation transitioned from an industrial base to an economy based on service and high technology jobs, Blacks and poor whites were dislocated from the new economy.
“There are a lot of politicians who want to blame the victims but a major part of the problem is structural and the government and major corporations are complicit in creating this environment,” Anderson said. “They want to blame the victims for their conditions but ignore those who helped create those conditions. Then they slash the safety net which leaves people either unemployed or structurally unemployed. Now whites tend to fare a little better. For many poor Blacks they have to operate in the underground economy where there are low wage jobs, welfare, bartering, begging or street crime; all of which operates without the benefit of civil law. This means if you have a problem with someone you don’t run to the police or file a lawsuit, you handle it yourself, which increases the crime and violence.”
As far as crime fighting strategies one of the Philadelphia Police Department’s strategies is known as Focused Deterrence. The collaborative approach is about prevention, accountability and outreach. Right now the collaborative law enforcement effort is centered in South Philadelphia with plans to expand it to other neighborhoods. The partners in the program are the Gun Violence Task Force, The United States Attorney’s Office, over 30 social service agencies and a host of community groups. Ed McCann, first assistant district attorney said it appears to be having an impact.
“Law enforcement agencies, led by the Philadelphia Police department and our office, work together to identify the violent groups in South Philadelphia and their members,” McCann said. “The key moment in the strategy is a ‘call-in,’ a face-to-face meeting between group members and the partnership. The partners deliver key messages to group members: that the violence is wrong and has to stop; that the community needs them alive and out of prison and with their loved ones; that help is available to all who would accept it; and that any future violence will be met with clear, predictable, and certain consequences.”
Another strategy that is expected to continue is a diversionary programs run by the District Attorney’s Office is The Choice is Your’s initiative.