For the families of the 339 homicide victims killed in Philadelphia this year, there will be no peace this Christmas. In fact, by the time you read this, there will probably have been another homicide. The number of homicides this year (as of Christmas) is the most in a year since 2007.
This is the second year in a row that Philadelphia has seen an increase in homicides, and continues a troubling upward trend that began in 2014, when the city saw “only” 248 homicides in a year.
The city’s homicide statistics are even more troubling considering that the homicide rate in many major cities declined this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. That includes Chicago, which again has become infamous for its murder rate.
Most troubling is that Philadelphia still has no plan to address this crisis.
That is one of the findings of a new report from the city’s Office of Violence Prevention. The goal of the report was to identify whether the approximately 40 community-based violence prevention programs that were funded by the city in fiscal year 2017 actually served those most at risk of violence — and particularly gun violence. A more detailed plan to address violence from a public health approach is due to Mayor Kenney on Jan. 5.
The report found that the city was too generous and broad in its estimate that it had invested $60 million in violence prevention programs in 2017 — the actual figure was about $13 million. But even more troubling, the audit of the programs found that most do not engage those most at risk. That is probably because, according to the report, there is no clear violence prevention strategy for the city or common set of metrics to inform investments in violence prevention.
Anti-violence programs do work. According to a study conducted by New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey, for every 10 nonprofits per 100,000 people that are working on crime and strengthening communities, there is a corresponding 9 percent reduction in the homicide rate. But it is also important to recognize that anti-violence programs alone won’t be able to address violence in the city. Income inequality, exposure to environmental hazards such as lead in childhood, access to guns, distrust of law enforcement, and illegal drug markets have all been shown to increase violence. For example, since 2013 there has been a steady increase in the proportion of homicides that were linked to crime — including a spike this year. Addressing the opioid epidemic will reduce violent crime, but that is not something that we can expect the Office of Violence Prevention to do alone.
The report is a good step toward transparency, but it’s clear that the city isn’t doing enough. Reducing homicide and violent crime is possible. But every part of city government needs to get serious about our rising death toll. Contracting anti-violence programs alone will not create the decline in homicides that our city needs. A comprehensive plan must also address the causes of crime and violence — mere hope and dollars will not be enough.