Why Is Crime On the Rise in Philly?

New York City, Los Angeles and Baltimore have also seen recent spikes in crime.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. AP | Matt Rourke

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

Homicides are increasing in Philadelphia. In the first half of 2015, police statistics show there were 155 murders, compared to 145 last year during the same period. In fact, all crime is up by 5 percent in the city. This depressing news comes after Philly has seen staggering decreases in crime, particularly homicides, in the past few years under Mayor Michael Nutter.

What’s going on?

The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Mark Fazlollah and Dylan Purcell dug into one statistic that has fallen at the same time that crime has risen: the number of arrests by police. “Through June, police recorded 5,661 fewer arrests than they did in the first half of last year,” they wrote. “Police made 34,786 arrests during the first six months of 2014; this year, 29,125.”

Police told the Inquirer that the number of arrests is down partly due to the fact that Philadelphia decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, and created a new diversionary program for children who are busted for minor crimes at school. But the newspaper looked at the data, and it turns out that the change in the city’s pot laws only account for about 3 percent of the 16 percent reduction in arrests. Meanwhile, the Inky wrote that the diversionary program “appeared to have had little impact on the overall decline. Records show there was only a small drop in juvenile cases, a decline of 418 arrests in the first half of the year.”

Without better information about why the police department is making fewer arrests, it’s hard to know if that is playing a role in the city’s crime uptick at all.

In fact, it’s hard to determine the factors behind crime patterns generally, particularly when examining a period of time as short as six months. As Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, told CNN, “It’s a little bit like the stock market. These statistics go up and down. It’s like asking why did the stock market go up 75 points today.”

Still, it’s noteworthy that several other big U.S. cities have seen increases in crime in 2015. In New York City, the murder rate has increased 20 percent this year, according to the BBC. The news service reported that homicides are also up in Baltimore (by 37 percent), Los Angeles (by 27 percent) and Houston (by 50 percent), while CNN found that they have increased in Milwaukee (by a staggering 103 percent) and Atlanta (by 52 percent).