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Homicides down sharply in Philadelphia

| Sunday, June 30, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Homicides in Philadelphia in 2013 are at the lowest midyear total in nearly half a century, police figures show, putting the city within reach of a modern-day low at year's end.

As of Saturday, with two days left in the six-month period, police had recorded 115 homicides, 38 percent fewer than during the comparable period last year.

The half-year figures are a promising sign for a city that in recent years has held the dubious distinction of being the nation's most violent big city.

Mayor Michael Nutter, police officials, prosecutors and criminal justice experts say the decrease in homicides reflects a new emphasis on data-driven policing, a crackdown on gun criminals and reforms in the criminal courts.

In particular, police and prosecutors have targeted hot spots — areas identified as the city's wellsprings for crime.

The fall in homicides reflects a general decline in violent crime. Violent robberies and serious assaults are also down sharply this year.

The count of shooting victims has fallen 18 percent, from 633 victims in the first six months of last year to 518 so far this year.

In an interview, Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey cautiously described the half-year numbers as the results of departmental efforts to attack crime in a smarter fashion.

“There has been a general acceptance of trying to think differently about crime,” he said.

With sophisticated computer mapping and data analysis, Ramsey said, the department has begun to anticipate crime trends and get ahead of them.

“I've been around for a long time, and what (once) passed for analysis was simply counting crime,” he said. “Now, we are actually analyzing crime and trying to learn from that analysis ways in which we can be more effective and tweak our strategy.”

District Attorney Seth Williams said he views the trend as “a sign of hope.”

At the current pace, the annual homicide figure would be lower than at any time since 1968.

An Inquirer analysis of city homicide figures during the past 50 years found that the midyear results generally mirror the second half of the year.

If that holds true, Philadelphia would conclude 2013 with roughly 250 homicides, a modern-era low that would fulfill Nutter's 2008 inaugural promise of cutting homicides up to 50 percent from 2007, when 391 people were killed.

Nutter expressed caution.

“We are not taking anything for granted,” the mayor said. “A half year is a half year. It is not a full year. I am very mindful that we still have to get through the summer and fall. We'll look at this and we'll smile at the numbers for about five minutes and then get back to work.”

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