As Nearby Small Cities Lower Murder Rates, Philadelphia Looks for Solutions

by Anthony Hennen


Homicides in Philadelphia have been stubbornly high compared to just a few years ago, and elected officials have started to look for answers in other cities.

While some crime has risen in a number of cities in recent years, few cities have seen a worse rise in murder than Philadelphia. A recent WalletHub comparison of per capita murder rates since 2020 found that Philadelphia ranked seventh of the 50 largest cities in America.

In 2015, Philadelphia had 280 murders. Last year, it set a new record of 562 homicides. And the city has seen only minor improvement in 2022. As of Oct. 20, 433 people have been killed in Philadelphia, only 2% fewer than at the same time last year.

City Council, the mayor, the Philadelphia Police Department, and District Attorney Larry Krasner have all taken criticism for the crime spike, as The Center Square previously reported, and officials have paid more attention to nearby cities to learn what strategies could help.

In Chester, city officials say their Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods has drastically reduced violent activity, including a 60% drop in gun-related homicides since 2019.

“The program … works on a ‘carrot and stick’ approach that begins by calling in influential people involved in crime, explaining that law enforcement knows who they are what they are responsible for, and giving them the ultimatum: ‘If you let us, we will help you; if you make us, we will stop you,’ a Delaware County release explained.

It also involves offering help that can range from getting people into an educational program to helping a prisoner get his daughter a birthday present.

The police have also improved on the shooting crimes they’ve solved. Clearance rates in Chester have dramatically increased – from 22% in 2019 to 70% in 2022.

While Chester is small – about 33,000 people – its proactive approach matters, and the experience of larger cities echoes its success. Officials in Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, and St. Louis have all emphasized collaboration between community leaders and police departments, accompanied by anti-violence grants to local groups. Philadelphia also sends grants to gun violence prevention groups, though the program has been criticized for slow processing times and lagging payouts to those groups.

Six Philadelphia City Councilmembers have also taken notice of nearby Trenton, New Jersey, for its summer without a murder.

Another factor may be adding to the city’s struggles: arrests by the police have dropped by 57% since 2012, as The Center Square previously reported. If shooters aren’t arrested, or problems aren’t addressed early, then serious crime can balloon.

The rising numbers of shootings, murder, and carjackings already have made crime and public safety a concern for the city’s upcoming mayoral election in 2023.

“I’ve heard from far too many people who are moving out of Philadelphia or are scared to come into our city,” said Allan Domb, a former city councilman who resigned to run for mayor. “Philadelphians deserve a leader who understands that every minute of every day needs to be focused on the public safety of the residents and businesses of this city.”

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Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
Photo “Philadelphia Police” by Rob Bulmahn. CC BY 2.0.


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