Philly homicides down 15 percent in 2008

December 30, 2008 3:23:47 PM PST
Despite looming budget cuts and the on-duty deaths of four officers, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Tuesday lauded a 15 percent drop in the city's homicide rate as his first year in office nears a close. Nutter had campaigned on a crime-prevention platform amid searing gun violence that earned the city the nickname "Killadelphia." He declared a "crime emergency" two hours after taking office in January.

CLICK HERE to read the city's 2008 crime rate report.

Nearly a year later, the mayor insisted that public safety remains his top priority, the battered economy notwithstanding. The city's homicide rate fell from 392 last year to 332 in 2008, a drop he called the sharpest in Philadelphia in a decade.

"Sixty more Philadelphians are alive today because of the great work of the Philadelphia Police Department," Nutter said Tuesday at a year-end news conference in West Philadelphia.

The number of shooting victims dropped 11 percent to about 1,500 in 2008 from 1,700 the year before, the police department said.

Gun crimes fell even more dramatically in nine high-crime districts targeted for extra patrols, officials said. Homicides dropped by 28 percent, from 256 to 185, and the number of shooting victims by 17 percent, from 1,086 to 905, in those areas.

Nutter spoke at a police district in one of those high-crime areas, just a block from where he grew up. He joked that his goal growing up had been to steer clear of the very station he was visiting Tuesday.

The mayor said that his administration is on pace to meet its goal, announced early last year, of cutting the homicide rate by as much as 50 percent in five years. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey wants the tally below 300 next year - and said he won't stop there.

"It is just nowhere near acceptable for the residents of this great city to have this many people murdered on the streets," Ramsey said, standing beside the mayor. "Granted, 60 fewer were killed this year. But we cannot and we will not rest until we get those numbers down significantly."

Despite dramatic increases in the number of pedestrian and vehicle stops - Nutter unapologetically deployed an "aggressive but constitutional" stop-and-frisk policy - police seized about the same number of guns they did a year earlier. Pedestrian stops soared from about 127,000 to just over 200,000, but gun seizures rose just 1.5 percent to 4,882.

The mayor and commissioner theorized that criminals are becoming more wary of carrying illegal guns on the street because of the crackdown.

"If you don't have that gun on you today, you can't shoot (somebody) today," Nutter said.

The stop-and-frisk searches, criticized by some on constitutional grounds, have led to 220 complaints, a slight uptick from a year earlier. But a citizen review panel deemed only 15 worthy of review, the mayor said.

Ramsey acknowledged that his department has been shaken by the deaths of four officers in the span of about five months this year and a fifth in late 2007. Three died by gunfire and the other two in vehicle crashes involving criminal suspects.

"It definitely did take its toll," Ramsey said. The chief of police in Washington, D.C., from 1998 to 2006, Ramsey said he had never experienced such a run of police deaths.

Budget constraints forced Nutter to add 200 new officers to the force this year, half his stated goal, but the number on patrol duty has grown by 330 due to Ramsey's reorganization.

The mayor in recent weeks has faced public outcries over his plan to close libraries and cut firefighting and other services to narrow the budget deficit. Yet he vowed not to back down from his public safety agenda. Ramsey, for his part, said he also wants to tackle the rising burglary rate next year.

"It will be a challenge, but we will not back away," Nutter said.

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