PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Minutes after the clock struck midnight, Philadelphia police responded to a call that turned out to be the city's first homicide of the year. A man was shot and killed in South Philadelphia near 2nd and Ritner streets.
It comes after one of the deadliest years on record in the city -- at least 499 homicide victims in 2020. The last time the city hit 500 was in 1990. The year also saw the highest number of shootings recorded by the Philadelphia Police Department.
Homicides were up 40% than in 2019 -- most of them with a gun and most of them Black men between the ages of 18 and 34 years old -- almost 150 more victims.
"We are seeing mainly arguments, and then second to that would be narcotics and drugs, especially in the east division," Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.
"When there's arguments, then there's retaliation, but you don’t know whether someone is going to retaliate, you don’t know what they are going to argue about, you don’t know at which point this argument will bubble up and fester into an act of crime or act of violence."
The number of people shot is up 55% from 2019 — about 2,300 victims — including more women and children.
"With all these things going on, we are still continuing to get these guns off the street," Outlaw said.
Every year, the Philadelphia Police Department confiscates more firearms — up about 15% in 2020 from the year before. And there were about 20% more gun-related arrests.
"When we go back to look at our shootings, at our shooters and our victims, there’s commonality there. They’ve either had previous arrests for VUFA (violations of Uniform Firearms Act) or for possession with the intent to deliver, or they have been a shooting victim before," she said.
The pandemic may have played a role, Outlaw says, but all partners of the criminal justice system need to take responsibility.
"And we are but one part of it," she said, "but we just can't be everywhere at one time."
In a prepared statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said, in part, "There are no words that can properly express the constant waves of heartbreak, anger and anxiety we feel from the devastation our city has experienced in 2020. ... We don’t give up. We don’t given in. We are determined to save lives and create peace."