Philly Struggles With Rising Murder Rate

Kathy Matheson, AP, April 23, 2007

A bloody, bullet-filled weekend left 11 people dead across the city, where drugs and disrespect have trumped brotherly love and the murder rate is on pace to be the highest in a decade.

Philadelphia has seen more than one killing a day this year, totaling 127 as of Monday afternoon. New York, Chicago and Los Angeleswhose populations are much larger than Philadelphia’s 1.5 million residentshave had fewer homicides this year.

The spike over the weekend was partly blamed on the first warm weather of the season. But rain or shine, Philadelphia police say the chronic problems remain the same: poverty, lax gun laws and a culture of intimidation that keeps witnesses silent and leaves shooters on the streets.

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They have, in a way. But the countless candlelight vigils, anti-violence rallies and community meetings have done nothing to stop the murder rate, which is 17 percent higher than last year at this time.

Officials, too, are at wit’s end.

“Do something!” District Attorney Lynne Abraham admonished Mayor John Street at one news conference.

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This year, Street has pledged to have 1,000 community activists and clergy trained in conflict resolution. He has paired a tougher juvenile curfew law with stricter enforcement, an effort mayoral spokesman Joe Grace said has reduced shootings by teens in one targeted area.

The city also is spending $3 million to hire 400 parents as truancy officers to keep children in school.

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Most of Philadelphia’s killings are by gunfire, most involve young black men and most are the result of arguments, often over drugs but sometimes over trivial insults or perceived slights.

Last month, city officials announced plans to assign 80 additional police officers to a particularly violent neighborhood in southwest Philadelphia, where nevertheless 28-year-old Jovonne Stelly died March 25 trying to get her children out of the crossfire, authorities said.

The next day, police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson announced that top police brass would begin working in uniform in high-crime areas for four hours, one night a week. There were two murders that day.

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The five Democrats hoping to succeed Street, also a Democrat, have proposed crime plans. Nearly all recommend hiring hundreds of new police officers to buttress the current force of about 6,600; one plan includes spending $15 million to post more surveillance cameras around the city.

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