Philly’s top cop: Social media beefs are part of our rising homicide problem

Richard Ross told City Council that people are killing each other over “the most inane things imaginable.”

Police Commissioner Richard Ross briefs the media following a deadly shooting in September.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross briefs the media following a deadly shooting in September.

Screenshot of live stream

Arguments on social media could be contributing to spiking homicide rates in Philadelphia.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross testified in front of Philadelphia City Council Tuesday as part of the city’s ongoing budget hearings process, and answered several questions about why homicide rates in the city are up 23 percent compared to this time last year. He said there’s no “absolute” answer — but he’s got a few guesses.

“Some of it’s social media-driven,” Ross said. “Young men disrespecting each other on social media and resulting to violent acts. ‘You disrespected me about some issue, now all my boys see it, all his boys see it, and it just gets ridiculous.’”

He continued: “There is no end to the number of people who just beef with each other over the most inane things imaginable.”

Now, Ross also said the city’s heroin crisis could be a contributing factor, as increases in the number of users can drive up competition between warring drug dealers. And he said that generally, there’s no denying “that deep poverty combined with lenient gun laws is just a terrible mix for us.”

The police commissioner’s comments come on the heels of a particularly violent Easter weekend that saw a series of shootings that left four people dead and another 16 injured in areas across the city from Southwest Philly to Kensington.

So far in 2017, there have been 97 homicide victims — a 23 percent increase compared to this time last year. Department officials said as of Monday night, there have been 321 total shooting victims to date this year, which is right around the 329 shooting victims as of this time last year. Philly experienced a major dip in yearly homicides in 2013, but consistent with national trends, those numbers have been steadily rising since then.

While last year’s murder rate was higher than it was in 2013 and 2014, it was slightly lower than in 2015 and the third-lowest since 1990. (Sorry, Donald Trump.)

Ross said the weather can be a factor to increasing rates of gun violence, which would seem to align with the spate of gun violence that took place last weekend, one of the first warm weekends of the calendar year.

“The weather can be a contributing factor sometimes,” he said, “when you get a spike of really warm weather that you weren’t expecting.”

While there’s some data that shows violent crime spikes when the weather is warmer, the data isn’t consistent with this when it comes to homicide and shooting victims. Data from Philadelphia in years past actually shows a weak correlation between the summer months and the number of incidents that actually occur. While there’s some increase during summer months, it’s not as dramatic what might be expected when looking at the data month-to-month.

Aggregate data on Philadelphia crime dating back to 2006 shows that incidents peaked when temperatures were in the low to mid-70s and then dropped significantly once the temperature climbed above 80 degrees.

That would support expert theories that suggest it’s not necessarily temperature itself that causes a rise in crime rates throughout cities, but it’s the opportunities that those months pose for young people — more teenagers are out of school, and more people in general are outside their homes.

Ross told Council the department has beefed up its homicide unit and is working on a variety of strategies to combat violence, including forming a Criminal Intelligence Unit to stave off retaliatory violence and looking at expanding its Focused Deterrence gun violence prevention program.

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