PHILLY'S HOMICIDE rate is raising some eyebrows - but this time, it's for all of the right reasons.
From the start of the year through Wednesday night, 54 homicides were recorded, a 39 percent drop from the same period a year ago, according to police statistics.
Shootings were down 20 percent, from 274 to 218, and overall violent crime fell 9 percent through March 31, the last date for which those figures were available.
For a city that has long been haunted by stubbornly high homicide tallies, the lower figures represent an encouraging sign of progress.
Whether that progress can be maintained through the notoriously violent spring and summer months is anyone's guess.
"It is a little early. We haven't hit the warm weather yet, but we're moving in the right direction," Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said this week.
It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of notable decreases or increases in crime, but Ramsey said the current lower numbers could be attributed in part to a handful of recent law-enforcement efforts.
Ramsey said the Police Department had a "significant" shake-up of district captains and other commanders several months ago, and placed an even greater emphasis on Smart Policing strategies that have been developed during the last few years with the help of Temple University criminologist Jerry Ratcliffe and others.
Ratcliffe said his team has helped to train police officers to better analyze crime data and craft long-term solutions for violent hot spots.
"I think a lot of district captains are learning to think more strategically," Ratcliffe said. "If you really focus on crime hot spots, the causes are often different - sometimes subtly, sometimes hugely. You can't have a one-size-fits-all approach."
Ramsey said investigators have focused on trying to interrupt the cycle of retaliatory shootings that play out in some neighborhoods by determining whether shooting victims have ties to gangs.
He also noted that the Police Department and the District Attorney's Office have partnered for the last year on GunStat, an initiative that identifies and targets violent offenders in the 22nd, 24th and 25th Police Districts. The agencies have also worked to get higher bail for repeat offenders.
"The revolving door has slowed a little bit," Ramsey said.
The department will soon kick off Operation Pressure Point, the annual April-to-October law-enforcement initiative that targets criminals in the city's most violent districts.
"People look at me like I'm crazy, but I honestly do believe a city like Philadelphia should have under 200 murders a year," Ramsey said. "I'm not saying we'll do that this year, but you got to have a goal and keep pushing for it."