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November 23, 2021

Philly nearing homicide record after another weekend of gun violence

Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to address the issue at a press conference Wednesday with District Attorney Larry Krasner and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw

Crime Homicides
11 23 2021 Gun.jpeg Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

After a bloody 2021, Philadelphia is just three victims away from beating its all-time homicide record of 500 deaths set in 1990.

After another weekend of high-profile gun violence, Philadelphia is just four homicide victims away from topping its all-time annual record of 500 homicides set in 1990.

The city is currently at 497 homicides for the year, which is just two fewer than the 499 tallied in 2020. Both counts are a huge jump from the 356 recorded in 2019 and the 246 tallied in 2013, the lowest number recorded since 2007.

Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to address the homicide rate at a 9:30 a.m. press conference Wednesday with District Attorney Larry Krasner and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.

Krasner already discussed the issue at his weekly briefing Monday, calling the trend "extremely disturbing."

The district attorney was seen wiping away tears while discussing the unsolved killing of Jessica Covington, a 32-year-old pregnant woman who was gunned down on Palmetto Street in Northeast Philadelphia after her baby shower Saturday night.

Krasner confirmed that investigators believe the attack, which also killed Covington's unborn child, was targeted. He said no arrests have been made and no weapon has yet been found. There's a $50,000 reward for anyone who provides information leading to an arrest.

On Sunday afternoon, Aaron Ravenell, 40, was gunned down on North Eighth Street in North Philadelphia. That case is also still unsolved.

According to the Philadelphia Police Department's Unsolved Murders website, only 40 homicides that happened in 2021 have been listed as solved.

Krasner said the low solve rate is largely due to the under-resourced police department lacking the modern technology it needs to quickly put perpetrators behind bars.

"Our ability to solve shootings and homicides is below where it should be," he said Monday, describing the city as "decades behind" when it comes to forensic technology.

Additionally, Krasner said local courts are currently working to ramp up the number of trials they will hold next year.

The relatively low number of trials that have been completed over the last two years, as necessitated by the pandemic, has taken an important deterrent away from the city's criminals, Krasner said.

Some city residents believe the problem can be solved at least in part by community groups.

The House of Umoja on Master Street in West Philadelphia, a long-standing Afrocentric social services organization, has partnered with the Philly Peace Park on an effort to administer a ceasefire between local street gangs.

House of Umoja helped broker a ceasefire between 30 local gangs in the 1970s, which helped lower the city's homicide rate significantly. In 1974, nearly 450 people were killed in Philadelphia, but in 1977 that number dropped to just 320.

The new partnership is looking to replicate that success by going door-to-door to have conversations with members of the community.

Organizers are currently working on 10 ceasefire agreements on particularly violent blocks in North and West Philadelphia. They aim to begin a second round of ceasefire proposals in time for the holidays next month.

As Philadelphia prepares for the end of a particularly rough year in terms of homicides, Camden has seen a big decrease in their numbers reported each year.

Camden recorded 57 homicides in 2013 and just 23 in 2020. That's a decrease of more than 50%. The Camden County Metro Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the city, recorded its 20th homicide of 2021 earlier this month.

Many officials and residents point to the dissolution of the old municipal police department and its replacement with the new, larger county-run department in 2013 as an important turning point. 

The new department has used a community policing approach, one which prioritizes the department's relationship with residents and community stakeholders, which many say has led to a decrease in both the number of homicides and other crimes committed in the city.

Still, Philadelphia's rising homicide rate is not unique on a national level. Between 2019 and 2020, the country saw the biggest increase in its homicide rate, roughly 30%, in over a century.

It's still unclear what exactly is behind the increase in homicide rates nationwide, but social scientists have some theories. The disruption caused by the pandemic, deteriorating police-community relations and an increase in gun purchases could all be contributing factors.