Coming off of a record-low year for homicides in Philadelphia, police are starting to see the number trend upward as drug and gang activity increase.
There have been 65 homicides in the city so far this year – 10 percent above the tally for the same time in 2013, according to the most recent data provided by the Philadelphia Police Department.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey tells NBC10.com drugs, particularly heroin, have been fueling many of these murders.
“Heroin has really increased. White heroin the purity level is really high -- anywhere from 70 to 87 percent at the street level. So drugs, obviously, is driving a lot of it,” he said.
The city’s 65th homicide took place just before midnight on Wednesday when 28-year-old Omar Rodriguez was shot in the face inside his home along the 5500 block of F Street in the Feltonville section of the city. Another man, 27-years-old, who didn’t live at the house, was also shot in the left elbow, side and back and is listed in critical condition at Temple University Hospital, police said.
Investigators believe the shooting is drug related after finding an undetermined amount of a white powdery drug, believed to be heroin, inside the house.
Philadelphia has become the heroin capital of the East Coast. David Dongilli, Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told NBC10’s Chris Cato in February that Philly has become a source city for distribution of the drug.
“We’re seeing quantities like we have never seen before in the city,” he said adding that high demand has forced the change. “Quite frankly the market is here. The addicts are here, the money is here,” he said.
Gang activity has also helped the homicide rate rise faster than last year’s average. Commissioner Ramsey says flare-ups between two groups in South Philadelphia has resulted in retaliation killings.
“We’re always mindful of that, we monitor that very carefully,” the commissioner said.
The number of multiple shootings -- two or three people being shot at once – is another contributing factor, Ramsey said.
The department is coming off of a year where the homicide rate was at record-low levels. There were 247 murders in Philadelphia in 2013 – a 25 percent drop from 2012 when the rate stood at 331. But the record goes back decades.
“We finished last year with the lowest total since 1967, we’re six above that right now with a lot of time left in the year,” the commissioner said earlier in the day on Wednesday before the murder on F Street. “We’ll continue to press as hard as we can and hopefully the outcome by the end of the year will be lower.”
Ramsey was also quick to point out that all other violent crime, including rape, which had its classification expanded to include men last year, is down by 11 percent.
"Our shootings are down significantly. Burglaries, robberies, everything is down. There’s a slight uptick in homicides, but again we’ve had triple homicides, four doubles, so we’re not in too bad a shape," he said.