Springtime for Philly: 6 Murders in 8 Hours

Police Commissioner Richard Ross says Philly's residents shouldn't have to live with so much violence.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross speaks during a news conference Friday, January 8, 2016, in Philadelphia.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross speaks during a news conference Friday, January 8, 2016, in Philadelphia.

Like clockwork, Philadelphia’s first taste of springlike weather is usually accompanied by a sudden rise in staccato bursts of gunfire and the shrill cries of ambulance sirens echoing across some of its streets.

Yesterday proved to be a textbook example, as the temperature pushed into the 70s, and the city recorded six murders in eight hours.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross is no stranger to sudden homicide spikes like this one.  He’s reluctant to blame the weather — “Somebody still has to pull out a gun,” he told Philly Mag this morning — but he’s seen plenty of overlap during his 26 years on the police force.

The same question always follows similar outbursts of chaos: What can be done to stop the bloodshed?

Under Ross’s predecessor, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the police department tried a number of strategies, like flooding the city’s most violent districts on weekends with a plethora of law enforcement agencies as part of an effort called “Operation Pressure Point.

The department also implemented smarter, more data-driven strategies, and even tried working more closely with small business owners.

We asked Ross if he’s planning to roll out any new anti-violence projects as spring and summer draw closer. As of last night, the city’s homicide total stood at 47, up slightly from the same point last year.

“We still use a variation of Pressure Point,” he said. “The lion’s share of that work is being done by our mobile field force, which traverses different hot spots, particularly on weekends.”

But those cops can’t be everywhere at once. Yesterday’s spate of murders was spread across five different police districts throughout the city.

Some of the incidents — like a triple stabbing that left one man dead in West Philly — appeared to be completely random. Others were the result of disputes that had been simmering below the surface.

“These are acts of violence that are very difficult to get in front of, because you don’t have that initial intelligence,” Ross said. “But we work very hard to get it. You hope to get information from people who will hopefully call in.”

Ross is, of course, well-versed in the difficulties of convincing residents to provide investigators with tips that can help solve violent crimes. The threat of retaliation for talking to the cops is all too real in some neighborhoods — but so is the possibility of being struck by a stray bullet.

“People should not have to get used to living like that,” he said.

The six murders served as a backdrop to a conversation community activist Anton Moore had this morning with 7th and 8th grade students at World Communications Charter School on Broad Street near South.

In 2009, Moore founded a nonprofit called Unity in the Community that’s focused on anti-violence efforts.  He was invited to the charter school by a student who wanted discuss violence in the city.

Moore was left shaken by the exchanges he had with the school kids.

“There were 20 of them. We went around the room. They weren’t talking about success stories — they were talking about their family members being murdered,” he said.

“There was a 13-year-old boy crying out because his brother had been killed in Strawberry Mansion.”

Moore said he and several others planned to spend part of today in the Grays Ferry and Point Breeze sections of South Philly, knocking on doors and urging residents to get involved with their community.

“People need to step up to the plate if they want change,” he said.

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