August 15, 2023
After hitting an all-time high during the pandemic, violent crime is on the decline in Philadelphia. Compared to last year, the city has had 7% fewer violent crimes in 2023 so far, with recent police data showing significant drops in homicides, shootings and robberies.
Homicides are down 28% across the city this year, while shootings have decreased by 23%, according to Philadelphia Police Department statistics tallying crimes that occurred between January 1 and August 6 of both years. Robberies are down by 10% in the same year-over-year comparison.
While there have been fewer violent incidents reported in the city this year, there have been some notable increases in other crimes, especially property crime. Police are reporting a 34% increase in retail theft, for instance.
Car thefts have more than doubled in Philly this year, with police reporting a 105% increase in cars being stolen compared to last year. This particular trend has been underway for some time. Earlier this summer, authorities noted a dramatic uptick in stolen cars – especially Hyundais and Kias – fueled in part by the so-called "Kia Challenge" trend on TikTok showing how easily those specific vehicles can be stolen due to the manufacturer's decision to leave a common anti-theft feature out of certain models.
The city's recent drop in homicides and other violent crime is cause for cautious optimism among city officials and residents. In the last few years, homicide numbers have been on the rise after a relatively calm cooling-off period. After dropping to below 300 homicides per year toward the end of Mayor Michael Nutter's administration (2008-2016), Philadelphia's murder rate started to climb in 2018 before reaching an all-time high of 562 homicides in 2021.
Philly's pandemic-era increase — as well as its post-pandemic decline — in homicides is fairly consistent with nationwide trends. In 2020, the United States experienced what the New York Times called "the largest increase in its homicide rate in modern history," before starting to drop back down toward normal levels more recently. This year, a survey conducted by the Council on Criminal Justice showed a 9% drop in homicides across 30 U.S. cities (one of which was Philadelphia). Yet while violent crime is on the decline – both nationwide and in Philly – it remains higher than it was before the pandemic.
One factor that has likely helped drive Philly's violent crime numbers north over the last few years is the increase in the proliferation of guns during the pandemic. In March 2021, the FBI reportedly conducted more than 1.2 million background checks for gun purchases in a single week, the most in the agency's recorded history.
Crime and public safety is the prevailing concern for a majority of Philadelphians, according to 2022 data from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In early 2019, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Operation Pinpoint as part of a plan to reduce gun violence in the city. Operation Pinpoint uses data to identify crime hotspots and deploy police resources accordingly. Police credit Operation Pinpoint — in particular, a decision late last year to direct resources to four high-crime police districts in North Philly, Kensington and Germantown — with helping bring Philly's homicide rate down from its 2021 peak.
Next year, the city will have a new resource in its effort to reduce violent crime. In May, Philly residents voted to create a new public safety director through an initiative that appeared on the ballot after initially being vetoed by Mayor Jim Kenney. The new cabinet-level position — modeled after similar roles created in cities like Chicago and Newark — will be tasked with coordinating crime reduction efforts across city agencies. Philadelphia's first public safety officer will be appointed by the city's next mayor after the mayoral election in November.