Year-end crime stats for Pa. cities are out, but only tell part of the story

     Investigators gather at the crime scene in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, Monday Dec. 15, 2014, after an officer fired their weapons at a man. (AP File Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

    Investigators gather at the crime scene in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, Monday Dec. 15, 2014, after an officer fired their weapons at a man. (AP File Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

    Keystone Crossroads collected year-end major crime data for the 14 most populous cities and borough in Pennsylvania. The numbers might surprise you.

    How do you know if a city is safe?  Sometimes a place might feel safe or unsafe depending on time of day and circumstance, but are those instinctual feelings accurate? 

    Keystone Crossroads collected year-end major crime data for the 14 most populous cities and borough in Pennsylvania and the numbers might surprise you.

    All crime data was collected directly from municipal police departments and the Pennsylvania’s uniform crime reporting system.

    But before looking at the data, it’s worth noting that the numbers alone offer only a limited view of the types of crime happening in Pennsylvania cities.

    The uniform crime reporting system is “a blunt instrument,” said Jim Lynch, chair of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland and former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics for the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Similar to a census, Lynch warns the numbers don’t give police and the public a detailed picture of crime in a city. “When you’re looking for a crime picture, broken windows, cyber crimes, domestic violence aren’t in the counts, or aren’t isolated in the counts,” said Lynch. “It’s not a nuanced view of what’s going on.”

    Lynch said the uniform crime reporting system was put in place by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1929 and there are better and more detailed ways for local police departments to collect data on individual incidents. 

    “We’ve been stuck with old technology” said Lynch. “It’ been 80 years since we’ve had a leap.  I think we can use another hop.” 

    Lynch added that the uniform crime reporting system does alert law enforcement and the public that an individual incident has occurred, but questions like who, what, where, and when need to be analyzed in order to find out if a city is really becoming more violent.  

    By the numbers  

    Compared to 2013, Pittsburgh, Chester, and Erie had significant increases in the number of murders in 2014.

    According to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, 71 people were murdered in Pittsburgh in 2014. That’s 25 more murders than in 2013 and the city’s highest murder rate since 2008. More than half of those murders remain unsolved, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Chester, a city of about 34,000 people in Delaware County,  also saw an increase in murders with 30 people slain in 2014. That’s eight more murders than 2013 and the highest number of murders in more than a decade. Chester’s murder rate per 100,000 people ranked highest among the 14 most populous cities and boroughs in Pennsylvania.

    In Erie, 11 people were murdered in 2014, an increase of seven murders compared to 2013. 

    In Philadelphia, the number of murders remained consistent with 248 people slain in 2014. That’s one more person murdered than 2013, which was considered a historic low since 1967 for the city of brotherly love.

    The state’s capitol also held steady ending 2014 with 18 murders, compared to 17 murders in 2013.  Harrisburg had the second highest murder rate per 100,000 people among the 13 cities and one borough we looked at in the state.   

    Allentown, Reading, Bethlehem, Altoona, York, and Wilkes-Barre had fewer murders in 2014 than in 2013.

    (Cities are listed in order of population — highest to lowest)

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    In addition to year-end murders, we also collected information about the number of violent crimes against people taking place in the same 14 cities. These crimes include murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Aggravated assault includes crimes reported involving an injury or a weapon.     

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    To further break down the types of violent crimes occurring in the Pennsylvania cities, we’ve isolated the number of rapes and attempts to commit rape. 

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     Lastly, we looked at  the number of property crimes which includes burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

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