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A few weeks ago, just after the New Year, Mayor Michael Nutter announced the results of a tally of crime for the year 2012.
The news, overall, was good: Since 2007, the year before Nutter took office with his newly-appointed Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, homicides have fallen by 15%, the number of shooting victims by nearly 20%. City-wide, the number of all “Part 1” violent crimes — aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and homicide — is down 16% this year, and 9% on average compared to 2007.
“When you look at the big picture since we implemented our strategies in 2008,” the mayor said, violent crime “has been reduced significantly.”
He’s right. But AxisPhilly took a closer look at the crime data recently released by the Philadelphia Police Department, examining crime patterns by neighborhood. We found a more nuanced picture – in which the differences between different neighborhoods and regions of the city can be stark.
The decline has been significantly greater, for example, in Center City and many of the neighborhoods surrounding it, particularly those experiencing recent gentrification.
Our analysis found that these neighborhoods (listed below) have experienced an average thirty-five percent reduction in violent crime since 2007 — nearly four times the overall 9% decline citywide. Put together, they account for nearly 20% of the total decline in violent crime in Philadelphia.
It also shows that other, generally less wealthy parts of the city have shared significantly less or sometimes not at all in the overall good news. Put another way, Philadelphia’s wealthier neighborhoods not only experience less violent crime than poorer ones, they continue to see it drop much faster than elsewhere in the city.
This map reflects an average of what’s happened to violent crime in the five years since Nutter took office and named Ramsey as police commissioner. It shows that violent crime is indeed down in most parts of the city. But it’s down significantly more in some neighborhoods than others, and even up in some.
Use our interactive tool to drill down into data for each neighborhood.
The most striking change is the dark blue patch of Center City and surrounding areas, particularly those that have seen gentrification in recent years. Center City, Rittenhouse Square, Graduate Hospital, Spring Garden, Fairmount, Logan Circle, Society Hill, Queen Village — as well as neighborhoods across the Schuylkill like University City, Cedar Park, Powelton Village, Mantua — all have seen a reduction in crime multiple times that experienced by the city as a whole.
Meanwhile, residents of some other neighborhoods have seen little change or even more crime over the same period. Neighborhoods colored light blue have seen crime decrease, but by less than 10%. Those colored gray, including many in the city’s 8th and 9th districts like Olney, Logan, Nicetown, Ogontz, Hunting Park, East Mount Airy, and parts of Germantown have seen an increase or decrease of more or less than 5%.
And then there are the neighborhoods — not many — for which violent crime has actually increased overall since 2007. West Mount Airy, East and Southwest Germantown, Tioga in Central-north and northwest Philly and Overbrook, West Parkside, and Haverford North in West Philadelphia; and Tacony and Academy Gardens in Northeast Philly — have all seen a more than 10% increase in violent crime since 2007.
In most of these cases, the overall increase in crime comes from a spike in years prior to 2012. West Mount Airy, for example, had a spate of violent crime in 2011 but returned in 2012 to below-2007 levels.
What accounts for the disparities isn’t such a simple question.
The correlation between declining violent crime and recent development and gentrification is obvious. What’s less clear is how much things like population density, police strategy, and community involvement affect changes in crime levels.
Barbara Kelley, who works for the Fairmount CDC, cites community and police teamwork as a major factor in the decline in crime in her neighborhood — “We deal with the cops all the time,” she said.
At the same time, Lt. John Stanford, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department, acknowledges himself the influence of external, economic forces. “Some of this has to do with deployment strategies,” he says, but also with “a lot of redevelopment going on … that tends to drive down crime as well.”
In stark contrast to Center City and its surrounding neighborhoods are pockets of the city like parts of Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia’s 16th and 19th police districts, which remain “prone to drug sales, prostitution, and, for lack of a better term, an incredible amount of loitering,” as 16th District Sergeant Maurice James puts it.
He attributes some of the violence to an environment “that doesn’t change, that’s the same as it’s always been.”
On the other hand, maybe it’s the case that gentrifying neighborhoods get more attention from police in the first place.
“Middle class people have a much greater ability to tap into resources and get the attention of local politicians,” points out University of Pennsylvania professor Eric Schneider, a historian of Philadelphia crime. He suspects that gentrifying neighborhoods attract an intense “hot spot” policing style that does reduce crime — but may ultimately under-serve other poor and minority communities.
It’s a question worth pondering.
Right next door to those persistently violent sections of Lancaster Ave is Powelton Village, where Drexel University’s students are driving a surge in development as well as bringing the extra attention of University police. There, violence is down nearly 30%.
“Amazingly enough,” Sergeant James noted, “the violence stays self-contained.”
(Follow Isaiah on twitter)