2021 was Philadelphia's deadliest year on record for homicides

Total homicides were up 12% from 2020, with more than 60 children killed and about 60 women who were victims of deadly domestic violence last year

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — This past year, 562 people in Philadelphia were killed at the hands of another, making 2021 officially the deadliest year for homicides on record in the city.

Jessica Covington, Nassir Day, Dominic Billa and Kyleek Williams are just a few of the people mourned by family and friends, undeserving examples of the gun violence plaguing the city.

Homicides were up 12% from 2020, and 53% from 2019. More than five dozen of the homicide victims were children, 17 years old or younger.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw pointed to stolen firearms driving the violence.

"We know illegal crime guns are driving a lot of the violence that we are seeing," said Outlaw.

She said they tried to focus on the top motives behind the killings, such as drugs and arguments on social media.

"We assigned additional analysts to help us identify individuals or groups that were utilizing social media to further the violence. We were seeing to get ahead of it," said Outlaw.

"The common denominator in all of this is [that] a fight without a gun is just a fight. A beef on social media without flashing a gun ... that’s huge."

The number of women killed this year in domestic violence cases doubled from 2020. About 60 were gunned down.

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Admittedly, Outlaw said the clearance rate isn’t what they wanted it to be, as less than half of homicides were solved. But the commissioner stressed the importance of community stepping up to end the bloodshed.

"There are witnesses that do not want to come forward," said Outlaw.

"A lot of loved ones know what their loved ones are doing, but they are not assisting us. In fact, they are out there with them or they are encouraging [them]. So there has to be accountability on all sides in order for this to work, and for us to put a dent in any of this."

Outlaw said that for 2022, they want to get the rate of solved cases up by using additional forensic technology, and will continue to get as many crime guns off the street as they can.

"There is definitely reason for hope and optimism because what we are doing is working," said Outlaw, "but because this all didn’t occur overnight, we aren’t going to fix it overnight."

City Council President Darrell Clarke released a statement on the year-end record of homicides, saying in part that leaders and all entities of the criminal justice system must stop “finger-pointing” and remain focused on the safety of all citizens. You can read the full statement below.

Links:
- Philadelphia Police Department Homicide Crime Statistics
- City Controller Gun Violence Map

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The following is President Darrell L. Clarke's statement from Friday:

“2021 comes to a close tonight. A year that began with Philadelphia immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic ends with the city still battling a virus that has claimed more than 4,200 Philadelphia lives and infected over 200,000 residents.”

“However, there is another epidemic afflicting our city – a crisis of gun violence. As of Thursday night, gun violence has claimed 559 lives. Over 2,300 Philadelphians have been shot – 210 under the age of 18. More than 60 homicide victims were children or teens. No neighborhood is immune. More lives were lost to gun violence this year than any year in Philadelphia history. Every homicide, every shooting, leaves deep circles of trauma that grievously harm mothers, fathers, family, friends and neighbors.”

“Our city is not alone as it struggles with gun violence. Homicides are up in other cities. Experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused homelessness, business closures, job losses and other inequities, has contributed to the other epidemic of gun violence that plagues our cities. But our jobs as Councilmembers and elected officials are to come up with solutions to make communities safer, not offer excuses.”

“Philadelphia is awash in a flood of guns. Handgun sales doubled last year – nearly 26,000 handguns were bought citywide. Meanwhile, Philadelphia police have confiscated 5,540 crime guns in 2021 – 11 percent more than last year. The city is fighting in state court for the right to enforce our own lost or stolen handgun reporting law – a reform led by City Council. The city is also suing the state legislature for failing to enact stronger gun laws – another reform led by Council.”

“Law enforcement and every agency involved in public safety must coordinate and cooperate more with each other. Police arrested 2,255 people for illegally possessing a gun this year – 46 percent more than in 2019. But gun case convictions by the District Attorney’s office have declined from 63 percent down to 49 percent. The DA’s office blames weaker cases brought by police, and witnesses who fail to appear for court. Meanwhile, the police clearance rate for homicides is 42 percent, and the clearance rate for all shootings is just 17 percent. Even our Police Commissioner says that is unacceptable. Our courts must play a role too in ensuring public safety, and consider the rights of victims of gun violence, as well as the accused. There is plenty of room for improvement at every stage of our criminal justice system – but it’s only possible when we stay focused on goals and stop finger-pointing.”

“As elected officials – the Mayor and City Council – we are all responsible for developing solutions that address this crisis. Council appropriated $155 million on public safety this year – including $16 million invested in neighborhood-based groups working to reduce gun violence. We approved funding for enhanced curfew centers to identify youths who need guidance and more opportunities. We allocated $25 million to a New Normal initiative for jobs training programs, neighborhood revitalization, and anti-poverty measures to lift 100,000 people out of poverty. Council created a $400 million Neighborhood Preservation Initiative – the largest public investment in neighborhoods in city history. However, given the escalating crisis of gun violence, Council and the Mayor clearly must do more in 2022. Every budgetary decision that Council makes and laws it approves must target actual solutions to the urgent problems of gun violence, poverty and associated economic challenges that our neighborhoods face.”

“Academic studies show that when neighborhoods are cleaned and revitalized, it has an impact on lowering crime and violence. Children and adults should not be subjected on a daily basis to seeing abandoned lots, mountains of trash and debris that can make them feel their neighborhood does not matter. We also need to work in a much more coordinated way when it comes to using high-definition surveillance cameras to prevent crime, not just detect it. Every public agency that utilizes these cameras – from PHA to SEPTA to the School District to city police – should be part of an integrated system where cameras are monitored in real time to see incidents developing before violence occurs.”

“Our schools must be safe havens where children can learn, not places where arguments spark violence. We need more community centers in schools where families can go for support. And, public officials cannot solve these problems alone. The business and university communities – led by a growing health-care sector – must reprioritize their efforts to hire more young people of color, giving them paths towards better lives. Organized labor – including the building trades – must diversify their ranks and give qualified candidates of color a chance to learn a trade and land family-sustaining jobs.”

“City employment efforts must be much more collaborative, with every initiative focused on providing opportunities for young people in our city who far too often feel abandoned and ignored. The Horticultural Society’s Same Day Pay and land management programs, the city’s Community Life Improvement Program, Licenses & Inspection efforts to improve neighborhoods – every employment effort must be laser-focused on providing more job opportunities for our young people.”

“The Federal infrastructure legislation approved by Congress and President Biden will channel billions of dollars in aid to municipalities – including Philadelphia. This is a rare opportunity that may not come again. Every dollar must be focused on improving Philadelphia, but they also must be used to give young men and women in our neighborhoods a chance, an opportunity, to go to work, to make something of themselves, and in the process, make Philadelphia a healthier, safer city. That is how we can make 2022 a better year than the one that closes out tonight.”

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