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Philadelphia homicide rate up over last year

The homicide rate has crept up in Philadelphia in recent weeks, at a time when the cash-strapped city government is making cuts to the Police Department.

The homicide rate has crept up in Philadelphia in recent weeks, at a time when the cash-strapped city government is making cuts to the Police Department.

Through Friday, 157 people had been slain this year in Philadelphia. That's up from 151 during the same period last year.

Overall, violent crime in the city is down this year compared with last year, and the homicide number remains far lower than just a few years ago. In 2007 during the same period, 212 people already had been slain.

Still, the Nutter administration stressed that it was trying to quickly crack down on the problem in the typically more dangerous summer months.

"Do we take the fact that there are six more [homicides] than last year seriously? Yes, we do," Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, said Friday. He said that Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey "has been working to maintain the number of folks we have out on the street."

But citywide budget cuts make the crime-prevention efforts even tougher.

In May, Mayor Nutter announced $20 million in cuts after City Council passed the $3.7 billion budget, including the cancellation of two planned Police Academy classes. And departments are working on plans for further cuts of 2 to 4 percent, which Gillison said have not been finalized.

Gillison said that Ramsey is working to keep manpower on the streets in the next few months, despite the limited resources. And the city is making efforts to keep kids in schools or activities this summer and to help adults find work, he said.

But Gillison said that the Police Department can do only so much with a restricted budget.

"We're a city that needs the additional resources because of the composition of the city," Gillison said.

Other cities have experienced small upticks in homicide rates. Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston all had small increases during the first five or six months of this year, compared with last year.

Crime expert Patrick Carr, a sociology professor at Rutgers University, said that Philly had made impressive gains in crime-fighting over the last two years and might have hit a plateau until more funding is available.

"It's unfortunate that to make the next step, you really need a lot more resources," Carr said. "I think they've done a terrific job, but this is as far as we're going to go."

And if this uptick continues, could it take a political toll on the mayor? Nutter ran on an antiviolence platform and has cited crime reduction as one of his top achievements. In his inaguration speech, he set a goal of reducing homicides by 30 to 50 percent in three to five years, a target that remains elusive.

Political consultant Larry Ceisler said that Nutter likely is still viewed by the public as strong on crime-fighting.

"Even though the homicide rate creeps up a little, I think we are light-years away from when we were a murder city," Ceisler said. "I don't think that's a perception anymore. Ramsey is probably the mayor's best hire. And I think the public has confidence in him."