Jan 10, 2022 - News

Philadelphia homicides hit historic level in 2021

Number of homicides in Philadelphia, by year
Data: Philadelphia Police Department; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

2021 marked Philadelphia's worst year for killings on record.

Driving the news: The city saw 561 homicides last year — its highest total ever, police told Axios.

Why it matters: Gun violence has a significant impact on everything in the city, from safety and the economy to the city budget and mental health.

By the numbers: Killings were up nearly 13% over the previous year.

  • 501 homicides (89%) involved firearms, according to police.
  • 2,332 people were shot in 2021, up 4% over 2020.

Context: The previous single-year homicide peak was 500 in 1990.

Between the lines: 80% of 2021 homicide victims were Black, while white victims accounted for 18%.

  • Black men between ages 18-34 were the most affected, accounting for 280 homicides.
  • 41 children under age 18 were killed in 2021.

What they're saying: Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said last week that she expects fewer killings this year, compared to 2021, as the department doubles down on effective policies, like working with federal partners.

  • Yes, but: She acknowledged the department is suffering from lower staffing is and trying to fill hundreds of open positions.
  • "We know that there are some things that worked really well, and those are things where, I say, we're going to redouble our efforts," she said.

Erica Atwood, senior director of the city's Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety, said the homicide rate began to slow in the waning months of 2021, which she hoped would continue in the new year.

  • "We've had spikes throughout the fall, but you’re starting to see some stabilization in numbers," she said.

Of note: The city has already logged 10 homicides as of Sunday, down 9% compared to the same time in 2021, according to the police department's online dashboard.

The other side: Rosalind Pichardo, founder of the anti-violence group Operation Save Our City, is preparing for homicides to increase in 2022 because the main drivers of violence remain in place, including social media "beefs" and retaliatory shootings.

  • She called for more aggressive prosecution of gun crimes and looks forward to the city distributing additional grant funding to anti-violence community organizations.
  • "We need a lot more boots on the ground and advocates," she said.

What's next: The police department has created a new non-fatal shooting unit, which will work with its homicide unit to share intelligence and data, Outlaw said last week.

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