Homicides surge past '06 numbers
Killings in Phila. are already up 22 percent over this time last year. Officials are alarmed.
Fifty-seven days into 2007 and there are 60 homicides on the books in Philadelphia.
Some were sensational, as when an angry investor opened fire at the Navy Yard, killing three business partners before killing himself.
Most were mundane. Men shot to death in cars or on city streets - often after the taverns have closed.
Women and teenagers have been gunned down, too - over arguments, petty rivalries and assorted nonsense - as in four deaths across the city last weekend, and another death yesterday, police say.
If the spike in violence that produced 406 homicides in 2006 signaled a crisis, how to characterize 2007, in which the homicide rate so far outpaces last year's by 22 percent?
"The rise in homicides caused by gun violence is unacceptable and we're committed to fighting it every second and every day this administration remains in office," Mayor Street's spokesman Joe Grace said.
"In 2007, we'll put 200 more police officers on the streets": 100 next month and 100 in June, Grace said. Other responses planned for this year and next include: 11 more curfew centers modeled on one that proved effective in lowering juvenile shootings in parts of South Philadelphia last summer; the hiring of 400 parent-truant officers to help the school district; and expanded efforts to integrate released prisoners into the community.
"We're working with our faith-based community and with our schools on conflict-resolution programs we believe can make a difference," Grace said.
For the moment, police administrators say they can't be sure what is driving the latest surge.
"At this point we characterize '07 as out of character" compared to last year because a larger number of homicides have occurred indoors - twice as many, year-to-date - police spokesman Capt. Benjamin Naish said.
Asked to explain the import of that finding, Naish said it showed "many violent confrontations are taking place outside the normal patrol areas where police are able to impact and prevent those incidents."
"We follow up, and hopefully, we are able to solve these crimes," he said. "The highway patrol and narcotics strike force are zoning in on areas where we have historical data to indicate high levels of gun violence," and a special tactical unit - SITE - has stepped up its work, he said.
"We work to do intelligent policing. At the same time, we are faced with . . . problems that some people would find beyond the immediate reach of law enforcement," he said.
To some that might sound like a lame excuse, but several seasoned antiviolence activists see some truth in it.
"I don't think there is just one thing we can do to stop this upward spiral. Everybody has to play a role. The business community. The faith-based community. Families, as well as the police," said Mark Farrell, executive director of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, a private group affiliated with the city Department of Human Services that began in 2002 and now has 700 volunteer members. "One of the first things we hear when we engage these people out on the street is, 'If I had a job, I wouldn't be out here.' "
Dorothy Johnson-Speight knows the price of violence firsthand. In 2001, her son Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson, 24, was shot seven times and killed over an Olney parking space.
Two years later she founded Mothers in Charge, an antiviolence group that today numbers 300 women.
The group works with youth and in several city schools to model nonviolent alternatives in conflict resolution.
"I think police need community support. I don't think that a cop on the corner would have prevented my son from being murdered. We need to work with the police around the issues of violence - please make that point. We need to work with them and not expect them to do it all for us," she said.