Is It a Crime Wave?

With 17 people wounded by gunfire in two recent high-profile attacks, street crime is once again grabbing big headlines. But what do the numbers say?

Violent crime is a staple of urban news coverage. It never really goes away, particularly on local television news. But public focus on and news coverage of violent crime does ebb and flow a bit. And until very recently, I think it’s fair to say that violent crime has been out of the spotlight in Philadelphia for quite some time.

Criminal justice, and questions about police and community relations, played a central role in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary. But crime itself was a tertiary issue in the campaign; a stark reversal from 2007, the last competitive mayoral election, when the city seemed gripped by fear of violent crime and the election focused on the question in depth. This is a crude metric, but I counted 183 front page Inquirer stories in 2007 that included the words “police” and “homicide” or “murder.” Last year, only 111 front page Inky stories included that combination of words.

But in recent days, after two brazen shootings left 17 people injured by shotgun blasts, Philadelphia crime and violence is back in the news in a big way. So what’s going on? Is violent crime on the rise in Philadelphia? Or are these just a couple of headline-generating anomalies?

We’ve got a close look at the numbers below. But in summary: while crime remains a very serious problem in Philadelphia, 2015 is shaping up as no worse and perhaps slightly better than 2014, which was itself one of the safest years on record in the city’s recent history. And the recent spike in shootings mostly looks like the latest manifestation of a tragic summer tradition in Philadelphia.