A week after the sudden shutdown of the city of Philadelphia, reported crime has dropped to some of the lowest levels seen in years. That’s according to an Inquirer analysis of preliminary incident data published by the city, which showed that the number of reported crimes was down by more than 25% compared with the average week over the last year.
Not all crime is down: Thefts of vehicles nearly doubled, the highest numbers the city has seen in almost a decade. Shootings, too, ticked up, but not past the expected ebbs and flows of violence in the city.
But the general trend was striking — other types of violent crime were down significantly, with aggravated assaults without a firearm down 35% from the average. Other assaults were down by 26% from the average week. Residential burglaries were also down by nearly a third. Thefts, too, mirrored the trend, down to 380 from an average of 500 a week.
The data, published by the city on its OpenDataPhilly website, reflect incidents reported to police by the public, as well as those matters police encounter and choose to pursue.
One drop in particular pointed toward changes in police enforcement: Drug and narcotic violations were a third of the average over the last year. Two weeks ago, the city reported 256 drug crime violations. Last week, it reported only 68.
Staff Inspector Sekou Kinebrew, a police spokesperson, said that the department is “constantly monitoring and evaluating” its crime data, and that commanders were closely watching for any potential trends or unusual impacts the coronavirus might have.
But he said it was too early to say with certainty whether a shift in any particular crime category had been caused by a response to the pandemic.
"It's just premature to give a definitive response, because we're still so early in this," Kinebrew said Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, the department sent out its own statistical analysis, saying overall violent crimes and property crimes had decreased in the four-week period leading up to March 22 compared with the four weeks before that.
In the department’s memo, the police reported auto thefts as having decreased. It was not immediately clear why the department’s four-week analysis differed from The Inquirer’s analysis of last week. But The Inquirer found that thefts of vehicles spiked significantly last week, particularly in the department’s Northeast districts.
The biggest drop, the department said, was in robberies involving a gun, while burglaries and various types of theft were also down. The number of shooting victims, meanwhile, increased by 22%.
Using data the city publishes on victims of gun violence, the Inquirer found that shooting victims had actually increased nearly 30%, from 82 shot to 106 shot, during the period the department highlighted, which largely preceded the citywide shutdown. However, that increase was nearly exactly matched during the same period the year prior, when the people shot increased from 78 to 102.
The department did not provide any explanation for the variations in its Wednesday memo.
The memo did detail various changes in assignments taken amid the pandemic, including redeploying some plainclothes officers from Internal Affairs to uniformed patrol, having narcotics officers monitor so-called crime hot spots, and assigning some officers to monitor shopping centers, as many businesses have closed or curtailed operations.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said last week that the department was adjusting its operations to balance public safety with the need to protect the health of the public and the department’s 6,500 employees. Among the changes: Officers have been told to change how they identify and process people suspected of committing low-level offenses. Outlaw said the department was “not turning a blind eye to crime.”