Philly homicides down 20% in 2023, DA Larry Krasner says end of COVID restrictions helped

Murders peaked at 562 in 2021 before falling to 514 in 2022. In 2023, the number dropped again, as 410 people were killed on city streets.

An up-close photo. of DA Larry Krasner.

File photo: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks with members of the media during a news conference in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said a major drop in the murder rate in 2023 is a sign the COVID recovery is working in Philadelphia.

Homicides in the city jumped by more than a hundred in 2020 to 499. Murders peaked at 562 in 2021 before falling to 514 in 2022. In 2023, the number dropped again, as 410 people were killed on Philly streets.

“That is down 150 from two years before,” Krasner said in an interview Thursday with WHYY News. The DA said there are just too many guns out on the streets, which was fueled by purchases made by people during the pandemic.

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He said increased shootings is the natural result “when you give everybody a gun — and there’s more guns every day than there were before — and you have right-wing maniacs, doing what the NRA tells them as the lobbying group for the for-profit arms industry.”

Krasner said the number of legal firearms is rising, alongside the number of ghost guns, weapons that can be bought online and assembled at home.

“For every gun that is taken off the street by police — and this is according to both PPD and the state AG’s Office, at least Pennsylvania — there are two or three guns that are legally purchased from gun shops to replace them. And that doesn’t even count the ghost guns, doesn’t even count the illegal gun market, which is enormous.”

The firearms are just a part of the problem that caused the killings to spike, said the DA, who believes people were also having issues being inside during COVID-19 shutdowns, and grappling with the fear of contracting COVID and other minor issues boiling over.

“Society shut down, so kids for the first time in my lifetime were not going to classrooms in public schools or private schools for a very long period of time, summer camp, municipal swimming pools closed, their ability to engage in organized sports, which have been sort of a basic mainstay of a lot of crime prevention for a long time,” he said.

Krasner said Mayor Cherelle Parke’s executive order declaring a state of emergency on public safety is good for the city. He said her call for teamwork is key to helping cut violence and crime.

“I am a hundred percent dedicated to the idea often expressed by our mayor that there should be sweeping collaboration. That it should be, as she put it in her inauguration speech which I attended, it should be ‘One Philly,’ that we need to work very much on intergovernmental relations.”

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Krasner said before more money is spent on additional police, there has to be careful study on how to wisely spend those funds where it can create the greatest return on investment.

“For example, does, should this one dollar go into a forensics lab where it may come back to the tune of ten dollars, which is a pretty good deal, or should this one dollar go into another police car that drives around the block, you know with officers who don’t get out, don’t establish relationships with people on the block and are not really investigating so much as they’re being a physical presence.”

Krasner said he’s a fan of the neighborhood policing model where officers interact more with residents instead of just driving through a neighborhood. He also added that his office has done good work with targeted spending, including a carjacking unit that he believes has decreased crime because of fear of prosecution.

The fear of prosecution is also stopping people from turning to “street justice” as Krasner calls it. He believes more people are putting down the guns and picking up the phone to tip off law enforcement rather than taking matters into their own hands for fear of prosecution.

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