Homicide rate down in much of Philadelphia region, but not in city

The number of homicides in Philadelphia rose, while other towns in N.J. and Pa. have had fewer murders and less violent crime this year.

Police investigate a drive-by shooting in Germantown on Oct. 3, 2018. Five young men aged 19 to 23 were shot. One died. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Police investigate a drive-by shooting in Germantown on Oct. 3, 2018. Five young men aged 19 to 23 were shot. One died. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Homicides in Philadelphia rose in 2018, while the rate of violent crime and slayings appears to have stayed the same — or even decreased — in other municipalities in the region, according to preliminary data.

Nationally, the prevalence of violent crime in the United States has been trending downward since 1990, with many of the largest decreases in the country’s metropolitan areas occurring in cities themselves, according to a 2011 analysis by the Brookings Institution. Suburbs have seen smaller decreases over the same period.

This year, Philadelphia bucked that trend with 346 homicides to date, the highest number in more than a decade.

“Philadelphia is actually an example where the [downward] trend has been more jagged than elsewhere, rather than even,” said Ames Grawert, senior counsel with the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. He noted the city’s murder rate remains well below a high of 503 homicides in 1990, and said trends are best measured in decades, not years.

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Other local urban centers have fared better this year. Camden has had 22 homicides, the same number as last year, maintaining the lowest number of slayings since 1985, according to Camden County spokesman Dan Keashen. In 2018, Wilmington, Delaware also saw a big decrease in homicides, a third fewer than in 2017.

Based on preliminary tallies from local prosecutors’ offices, police departments, and state-level clearinghouses, here is a roundup of homicide and violent crime numbers across the region. (Homicides here do not count vehicular deaths.)

Southeastern Pennsylvania

Montgomery County, the most populous suburban Philadelphia County, has had 19 homicides in 2018, the highest number since 2011 and a significant increase over 12 homicides in 2017. Nine resulted from family or domestic violence, an unusually high number for the county. In Norristown, where murders and violent crimes have dropped significantly in recent years, the tally of homicides crept up from four in 2017 to six in 2018, even as other violent crimes — assaults and robberies — decreased by 24 and 37 percent respectively.

All other Southeastern Pennsylvania counties saw a decrease in homicides so far this year.

Bucks County has had 15 homicides, down from 16 in 2017.

Chester County has experienced nine homicides so far this year, according to officials at the county district attorney’s office. That’s five fewer than 2017.

The number also dropped dramatically in Delaware County, which has had 32 homicides so far, down from a total of 45 in 2017.

New Jersey and Delaware

In New Jersey, violent crime dropped by nearly 20 percent across the board, according to crime statistics published by the state police and current through November.

The number of homicides in Atlantic, Burlington, Mercer, Camden, and Cape May counties is, so far, lower than in 2017.

Camden City saw 22 murders, the same number as last year, maintaining a 30-year low.

In other locations, the picture has been more mixed.

Cumberland County saw the same number of homicides as last year, while all other types of violent crime went down. Homicides and assaults went up in Gloucester County, as well as in Ocean County. In Salem County, homicides and murder vehicle thefts rose, while all other crimes decreased.

State-level numbers were not forthcoming in Delaware. But in Wilmington, ranked the fifth most dangerous city in the nation by NeighborhoodScout earlier this year, violent crime is down across the board. That city has experienced a 33 percent decline in homicides and a 73 percent drop in rapes since last year, according to data compiled by the Wilmington Police Department.

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