Philadelphia Homicides at Historic Low: What a Blessing!

There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 15th, 2013 which referred to a historic decrease in the murder rate in Philadelphia.  There are numerous families in this city which are going to be celebrating a better Christmas because they didn't have to bury a loved one due to the senseless violence which has wracked the city for years.  Although there had been 238 slayings city wide as of the Saturday before the article was published, this number was the lowest since 1967.  I would like to thank whatever factors that are presently in effect that led to this.

In spite of the decrease, I want to take the time to put this low number in perspective.  At the minimum number of 238 persons per year, Philadelphia has seen almost 11,000 murders since 1967.  I know a few people who have succumbed to death by gunshot.  Mark Tarboro was a guy I grew up with on Latona Street.  He became a solid basketball player and someone then took his life.  Lester Rogers was also a young guy who met an untimely fate at the end of a bullet.  It doesn't matter what causes the act, there is no coming back from death for the people, each of whom has a story to tell, about this scourge that has affected my city.

One of the causes for this decrease in murders is a program called Focused Deterrence.  It is initiated by the District Attorney's office and operates in South Philadelphia.  I work closely with two gentleman who are the front line for the program.  Ruben Jones and Hassan Freeman interact with returning citizens who have been convicted of gun crimes.  They work with a number of agencies to ensure that these gentlemen can find employment, re-establish relationships with their family and avoid the high rates of recidivism that continues to affect those convicted of felonies.

A strategy that has been implemented is the identification of crews.  This is a synonym for gangs.  I don't think Philadelphia has been beset by the influx of Crips, Bloods or Latin Kings.  I can remember the devastation inflicted by the Jamaican Shower Posses that operated with impunity in some areas of the city.  When a 'shooter' commits a crime, his network is identified by the location of the shooting.  He/she is contacted and his associates or victims are also contacted.  I would consider it profiling but if the results are as tangible as what we are experiencing now, then I will understand that it is for the common good.  City Council's efforts at gun control have been defeated numerous times by the legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  We need to police ourselves to make the street safer.  

In South Philadelphia, there has been a remarkable decrease in shootings and homicides.  The article reflects a 47% decrease in homicides and a 24% decrease in shootings.  The recent call in of 33 young men who had arrest records indicates that the District Attorney's office is deadly serious, excuse the term, in its efforts to identify major players in crime.  It is interesting that there is no cause mentioned for the reasons that these young men are committing these crimes.  Could it be the drug trade, unemployment, lack of education or just a vicious cycle of revenge?  I guess sociologists will write the story about the causes.  I am pleased with the current results.  I have been in school safety meetings and community policing meetings this week where everyone is happy about the decrease.  God Bless those that who lost their lives and bless those also who are still here to hug their families.

I look forward to more positive news in this regard in 2014.  I hope that our young people will take the time to participate more effectively in the political process.  We are in between election cycles for Mayor and City Council.  Employment still has to be a major objective in order for these statistics to continue to improve.  I give credit to the police who track gun crimes and keep our citizens safer.  Although there have been a number of officers who have run afoul of the law in the last few years, the overall safety level in the city has improved.  Congratulations to Seth Williams and Commissioner Ramsey on the major successes that have led to lives being saved.     

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