With homicides down 15 percent and violent crime off 3 percent from last year, Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey yesterday declared their anticrime initiatives a success despite falling short of lofty goals set in January.
The mayor and commissioner had hoped to reduce killings by 25 percent and violent crime by 20 percent.
"This is the sharpest decline in homicides in a decade here in the city of Philadelphia," Nutter said at a news conference held in the 18th District in Southwest Philadelphia, a district that saw a 72 percent drop in killings. "The bottom line is that major crime in Philadelphia is down. We're not where we want to be, though, and we have much more work to do."
So far, 332 people have been slain in the city this year compared with 392 for the same period last year.
The goal, Ramsey said, is to get the number below 300 for 2009 and to reduce homicides by 30 to 50 percent within three to five years.
"We've got to continue to drive this crime rate down," he said. "It is just nowhere near acceptable for the residents of this great city to have this many people murdered."
Statistics released by the department earlier this month showed rapes and aggravated assaults both increased 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Ramsey also noted yesterday that property crime was up 1 percent.
The numbers released yesterday suggested Ramsey's targeted approach to crime-fighting was having a positive effect. The commissioner had aimed extra resources at nine of the city's most violent districts - including the 18th District. Those districts had significant decreases in crime - a 28 percent drop in homicides and 17 percent drop in shooting victims.
Areas not specifically targeted saw homicides increase 8 percent and the number of shooting victims decrease by 1.5 percent.
Fighting crime came at a heavy cost for police, however. Four officers were killed in the line of duty: two by gunfire and two by cars driven by fleeing criminals.
The Rev. Valerie Bard, who has lived in Southwest Philadelphia since 1991, said she has noticed a difference in her neighborhood in the last year. Gunshots no longer ring out with regularity, and she doesn't hear as many sirens blaring from ambulances rushing to crime scenes.
"In the middle of the night, it's so quiet in the neighborhood you can hear people walking and talking," Bard said.
Iman N. Abdulkhabiyr, an 18-year resident of Southwest Philadelphia, said the change came in the spring, when police patrols and pedestrian stops were more visible, forcing more people off the street after midnight. "Beginning in the spring you saw an increased police presence," he said. "There was always an ongoing interrogation or questioning on the street."
That was just what Nutter and Ramsey hoped residents would experience.
"In the target enforcement zones in our city, the most violent and dangerous places in Philadelphia, we focused the lion's share of our resources," Nutter said yesterday.
Nutter and Ramsey promised that a safer city remains the top priority for 2009, despite a budget crisis putting a strain on the Police Department of about 6,700 officers. The city hired 200 officers this year, not the 400 intended. There's pressure to reduce overtime by 11 percent, which Ramsey said he hoped could be done with a more efficient court system rather than by reducing patrols.
The mayor attributed this year's decline in crime partly to his aggressive and controversial stop-and-frisk approach along with Ramsey's redeployment of the force that eliminated some specialized units to enhance the Patrol Bureau. As a result, uniformed patrol increased by 330 officers.
Nutter added that pedestrian stops were up 58 percent, vehicle stops up 23 percent, gun seizures up 1 percent and arrests were up 7 percent. Additionally, the percentage of murders that resulted in arrests jumped from 59 percent in 2007 to 74 percent this year.
It's not surprising, the mayor and Ramsey said, that gun seizures were not up significantly because of the stop-and-frisk approach.
"The whole goal was to get a guy to think twice about carrying a gun. If you never stop them and they never see the police, why wouldn't they carry a gun?" Ramsey said. "I want them looking over their shoulder every time they set foot on concrete if they're one of those bad guys."