As Philly homicides surge, leaders push guns and COVID-19 as key factors

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — In just the first five weeks of the new year, Philadelphia's homicide rate is already nearly 40% higher than this time last year which was the highest in three decades. Mayor Jim Kenney and other city leaders say even amid the pandemic, gun violence is an "absolute priority."

On Thursday night, 18-year-old Jabree Oliphant and a group of friends were out along 19th Street in West Oak Lane when they were was startled by gunfire and began to run in fear. Oliphant was struck in the head and fell to the ground, later declared dead. A 22-year-old was also shot twice but will physically recover.

Three more people were shot Friday night, two men in their mid-30s along Pemberton Street in West Philadelphia and 37-year-old man in North Philadelphia. All are expected to recover as well.

With more than 50 victims already this year, Kenney believes the effects of the pandemic have caused the surge in gun violence — with limited court proceedings and trials, and probation limitations.

"Probation and parole has really not been doing much because of the restrictions, so having those visits and interactions with are people who are under court supervision has been difficult to do," he said. "They can't do urine analysis, they can't really go out and meet with people."

But homicides have been slowly rising the last four years, with the biggest jump in 2018 with about 40 more homicides than the prior year, and more than triple that amount from 2019 to 2020.

Kenney also pointed to the biggest factor: access to guns.

"We look at all of the different facets of crime-fighting, and group violence intervention and stuff," he said, "and we take 300 to 400 guns off the street a month, and they're right back."

A spokesperson with the Office of Violence Prevention said in a statement, "Instead of arguing over semantics, we are interested in working together with all stakeholders to address our gun violence epidemic.

"In the meantime, the administration has realigned the work of violence prevention and reduction with the very recent creation of the Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety. By making this move, we believe it will lead to significant reductions in gun violence this year."

The mayor believes that vaccinations will help to curb the trends. "I think if we get more and more vaccinations and lessen the spread, I think we'll be able to get the court system back up and running full, get probation and parole out, and be able to get our group violence people to have more interaction with people at risk."

In about 30 cities around the country, homicides were up especially in most major cities, but not everywhere — Baltimore had about a dozen less and Miami ended the year with an approximate 30% decrease in killings.

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