THE STREETS of Philadelphia are less mean this year because of a major decline in crime, led by a decrease in the number of homicides.
If the pace in the second half of this year matches the first, the city will end 2013 with fewer than 70,000 Part One crimes recorded. Part One includes murder, rape, robbery, serious assaults, burglary and theft.
As you can tell by that number, Philadelphia still has a lot of crime. But going below 70,000 would be significant, bringing crime down to the lowest level in 40 years and homicides down to the lowest number since 1969.
These numbers haven't dropped on their own. Would-be criminals haven't turned to new careers. Philadelphia is part of a national trend of decline in crime, caused in part by demographic changes, such as fewer young adults in the crime-prone 18 to 29 age range.
But there are homegrown reason as well. One of them is smarter policing.
The work of law enforcement has come a long way from the days of police making their rounds by randomly driving around in patrol cars - "two guys in a metal box," as one police official dismissively calls it.
Under the leadership of Commissioner Charles Ramsey, policing in the city is more data-driven, proactive and community-centered. It is more about prevention and less about arrests.
Ramsey isn't afraid of going where the facts lead him. In 2009, the department asked Temple University's Center for Security and Crime Science to run a street-level study on the use of foot patrols.
Patrolling on foot used to be a police staple, but it had fallen out of favor. Some police dismissed it as nothing more than an exercise in feel-good public relations - making a community feel safer, but not delivering the goods.
The Temple study disproved that thinking. It found that crime declined 23 percent in areas with regular foot patrols. Ramsey took that study to heart. The result is more foot patrols than ever, often concentrated in high-crime areas.
Policing has benefited from the same advances in technology that have changed our world in the last 20 years. With advanced computing and mapping, police can target hot spots for extra manpower. The increasing presence of surveillance cameras can capture perpetrators in action. A new generation of police captains, who grew up using this technology, is adept at using it and eager to do so.
Jerry Ratcliffe, head of the Temple Crime Center, says that there has been a big shift in the Police Department, with officers better able to identify hot spots, hot times and hot offenders.
All this is welcome news, especially for a police department that has had a history of corruption and other problems, none of which has contributed to the relationship between law enforcement and the community. And better, more objective oversight of the police is still a goal that falls far short of where it should be.