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Violent July weekends: Why Philly had its highest monthly homicide rate in 3 years

Six people were killed and many others shot and wounded in Philadelphia over the weekend. Among them: A 16-year-old boy shot through the left eye who died hours later. A man who was killed after being targeted in a barbershop. An 18-year-old who survived after being shot-twice during his college going-away party.

The good news we’ve heard about violent crime in Philly trending downward over the last several years came to halt last month when July recorded the highest number of homicides since June 2012. And after the violent weekend of the last three days, August is on track to record an even higher number.

Violent crime in Philadelphia in totality is still down compared to last year, but all crime is up, as The Inquirer pointed out in a recent story about Philly Police making far fewer arrests this year than it did over the last six years. Some of that decline can be attributed to the decriminalization of marijuana, but not all.

Billy Penn took a look specifically at homicides over the last month or so, finding that police filed 33 reports of criminal homicide in July, which represents the highest monthly total since June 2012 and a 57 percent increase over the number of homicides recorded in July last year. Through the first eight days of August, 10 homicides had already been recorded, meaning that if the heightened trend continues, August could see in the ballpark of 40 homicides.

Here’s a look at the total number of homicides to-date this year compared with the number of homicides at the same date of every year going back to 2007:

homicides yearly to 2007

As you can see, despite a slight uptick in homicides so far this year compared with the last few years, Philadelphia’s rates are still nowhere near what they were in 2007 before the historic reductions in violent crime in 2008. To date, the number of homicides is down 36 percent compared to this day in 2007.

So why the violent weekends?

While it’s true that data in Philadelphia don’t show that violent crime rises consistently as the temperature does, more crime often does occur when it’s warm out, largely because of opportunity — more teenagers are out of school and more people are out and about on the streets.

Caterina Roman, an associate professor of criminal justice at Temple University, told Billy Penn last month that one of the biggest changes in the summertime months that can cause increases in violent crime and homicide is teenagers’ involvement in gangs. Kids without summer jobs are hanging out with crews in their neighborhoods that grow in strength and size when high schoolers are out for the summer. Things can turn ugly when the groups beef with each other.

“When someone says ‘a gang,’ people think that these kids are perusing the streets looking for trouble,” she said. “But mostly these are kids who look like normal kids. They don’t have colors or things like that, but they hang around and they’re affiliated and will protect their territory. And that’s an MO.”

But this crime spike isn’t just a Philly problem. As Philly mag pointed out, several large cities have seen increases in violent crime this year — from New York to Baltimore to Los Angeles.

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