This story is from Stop and Frisk, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting
Philadelphia saw 8% fewer homicides in 2022 than in 2021, according to an analysis of Philadelphia Police Department data from the Office of the Controller. The city recorded 516 homicides, fewer than the record-high 562 homicides it recorded the year prior.
Most of 2022’s homicides were committed with a firearm. Just under 80% of fatal shooting victims were Black, and about half were between the ages of 18 and 30. There were 30 children killed by gunfire.
While fewer deaths is inarguably a positive, Erica Atwood with the city’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety says non-fatal shootings are a better indicator of overall gun violence — and those numbers remained steady. There were 1,791 non-fatal shootings in 2022. By the end of December 2021, there were 1,831, according to data from the Office of the Controller.
Atwood said the number of non-fatal shootings is a call to action for her office.
“What are the interventions that we are making for individuals that have been shot, so there are not retaliations and/or repeat shootings?” she said. “We can’t take our foot off the gas … we have to stay the course and continue to invest in a holistic approach to this issue. “
Bilal Qayyum, a longtime Philadelphia gun violence activist who heads the Father’s Day Rally Committee, said the fact that shooting numbers are consistent but homicide numbers are down just means shooters aren’t dealing fatal blows.
“These guys don’t know how to shoot,” he said.
Qayyum said there needs to be a focus on teaching people how to resolve conflict — about half of Philadelphia’s fatal shootings are caused by an argument, according to the city’s 100 Shooting Review Committee Report.
Mike O’Bryan, a researcher at the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University, said focusing just on the numbers without looking at the root causes is “dangerous,” because it encourages a false sense of accomplishment.
“The city has never had a handle on homicides,” O’Bryan said. “That’s my position as a 37-year-old Black man who has worked with a number of young Black men who have been shot, who has worked with young Black women who have been shot … working with families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, parents, siblings, children. There’s not a moment we have gotten this right from the late ‘80s out.”
Philadelphians who live in neighborhoods affected by gun violence say they’re exhausted and afraid, and most have little faith in the city to solve the problem. A recent survey from nonprofit group Frontline Dads found that 96% of residents think the city leadership “could do more to stop gun violence.” Activists have also asked for more evaluation of city-funded violence prevention programs.
While the city held a series of “listening sessions” in neighborhoods impacted by gun violence this year, community members say they need to see concrete action out of those meetings. The anti-violence budget has ballooned since 2020, with pots of money set aside as grants for community organizations, but there have been hold-ups with the distribution process.
Atwood said she’s committed to supporting boots-on-the-ground groups “to sustain the work that we know has been happening for years.”
Her office is also hiring a director for the Community Crisis Intervention Program, a city-funded street outreach effort that’s been hampered by a lack of leadership, according to an October evaluation commissioned by the city.
She said the city is “in final negotiations with providers” for the READI program, a therapy and employment program for adults at risk of perpetrating shootings, which has shown success in Chicago. The initiative was supposed to launch in mid-November.
O’Bryan said it’s too early to know whether any of the gun violence interventions — whether from the government, academic institutions, or community organizations — are having a sustained impact on the numbers, especially because they’re largely not being measured in a reliable way.
“It’s hard to then try to pull out the learnings,” he said. “And by the time we probably did all that, we’d be on to the next year.
He has hope though, largely because of the growing number of young people getting involved in creating solutions to gun violence.
“There’s a lot of really healthy, righteous anger, from that [young] age group,” said O’Bryan. “How long that window stays open, I don’t know.”
Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.