Philadelphia officials say they expect this summer’s uptick in gun violence to ease when the weather cools, and that they plan to stay their course on prevention in the meantime.
“Is this a point in time where I think we should hit the panic button? I think the panic button starts at one or two deaths, but the numbers ebb and flow,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
Concerns about safety have been top of mind for many Philadelphians this summer, with homicides reaching 322 as of August 2. Of that total, 290 were shooting victims. In light of those numbers, and following gunshots at a public 4th of July celebration, some community organizations have canceled their summertime events.
Outlaw said she thinks the violence is at least partially related to the change in weather.
“When it gets hot there are more people outside, there’s more chance encounters,” she said.
When asked about plans to implement new strategies in response to the rise in gun crime, Outlaw said she plans to continue trying to recruit more officers and increase police presence in areas where gun crime is highest.
“We all have to acknowledge that when you have a strategy, you have to give it some time and stick to it to allow for it to work,” she said.
When asked whether Philly is experiencing a gun violence crisis, Mayor Jim Kenney answered affirmatively, and also pointed out that it’s a statewide and nationwide problem.
“There’s other elements of city services and city response and city outcomes that are doing quite well,” he said. “If I had a magic wand and could get rid of guns tomorrow, I’d do it.”
Kenney blamed the accessibility of weapons for the continued crime surge. He said police are on track to recover as many crime guns as they did in 2021.
“We’re working at our best to get the guns off the street, to intercede in potential violence situations,” he said, adding that the city will “continue to do that and plug away at it until we get the numbers down.”
He also suggested that people shouldn’t arm themselves because of the gun violence crisis, though community leaders say many Black men in Philadelphia feel they need to carry a weapon for protection.
“It doesn’t justify anybody from telling you that they should carry a gun because everybody else is carrying a gun,” he said. “That’s the Wild West. ”
The mayor shared the city’s domestic violence crisis line, noting that domestic violence is the third largest driver of homicides.
Erica Atwood with the city’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety brought up the “Next is Now” summer series, designed to gather young leaders to brainstorm solutions on how to make communities safer.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.