Monday, April 2, 2007

Crime in Philadelphia

As even those of you not living in Philadelphia probably know, the city's violent crime rates have risen dramatically in the last few years. (There were over 2000 shootings and over 400 murders in Philadelphia in 2006) The factors driving the rise are complex, but many point to the combination of poverty and easy access to guns. Of the 10 largest us cities, Philly has the highest murder rate (27 per 100,000 people) and highest poverty rate (25%). Even more telling is the localization of the crime in the poorest neighborhoods.

There is obviously an extremely high correlation between the average income and crime rate in different regions of the city. Complicating the situation further, areas of high poverty in the city also tend to have a predominately African-America population.

Amung the growing list of porblems is that witnesses are unwilling to testify in court, for fear getting killed themselves. "Snitch or Die" tee-shirts have even become the new fashion trend. The situation is so dire that one Mayoral candidate has suggested declaring a state of emergency, although he doesn't include that in his official 14-point plan.

So what's the solution? Beats me. Jobs and gun control, I guess. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


dave hiller said...

First, a small point - would the correlation look so strong if you plotted shooting rate? Areas with high population density are usually poorer, and of course if there are more people there will be more shootings.

Second, I'd point out that violent crime had been falling sharply and this is a recent increase. That said, I'm not sure what the cause is - though I'd bet it has a lot to do with the slowdown in economic growth.

Lastly, I'll take issue with the offhand comment that gun control is part of the solution. Sometimes increases in gun control coincide with increases in violent crime, and the CDC reported insufficient evidence that gun controls work. Of course it's extremely difficult to figure out exactly what the effects of any law are. At the very least it's not clear that gun control does any good, and it's possible it does harm.

That all said, I'm not sure what the solution is. I'll throw out a few suggestions for others to tear apart: less gun control, relaxation of drug laws, community policing, and of course anything that generally improves quality of life.

Alan Rosenwinkel said...

True, the data should be normalized by population density. The population density variation from one part of the city to another is at most 3:1 which wouldn't put much of a dent in the correlation. (I added this population map to the original post because it wouldn't let me put an image in the comment)

Dave is correct that the violent crime rate had been falling, from 1990 to 2002 in philadelphia; however, if the 19% increase in murders from 2006 to 2007 continues, we will be nearly back to the high of 500 murders of 1990.

As for gun control, I wouldn't want to rob someone if i thought they might have a gun either. One stat jumped out at me from the article Dave linked to. In the UK, where there is strict gun control, 51% of home burglaries are attempted when the residents are home. In the US, it's only 13%.

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