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By Mark Dent July 24, 2017

Will Philly’s murder rate be the highest this decade, as AG Jeff Sessions said?

On Friday, another member of the Trump administration discussed crime in Philly.

In town for a speech to law enforcement officials, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions started talking about violent crime, similar to the way his boss did in January at the GOP Retreat. Back then, Trump made a statement we at PolitiFact PA quickly decided was false, saying, "Here in Philadelphia the murder has been steady — I mean — just terribly increasing."

Sessions said, "Preliminary data show murders are up 20 percent from last year. It will put the murder rate at the highest this decade in the city."

First off, the murder rate is up 20 percent so far this year. The morning he was speaking, it was actually up 21 percent over the same day as last year and has hovered near 20 every day for at least the last several weeks.

But here we are fact-checking the latter part of the statement: whether the homicide rate this year will be the highest of this decade so far and whether it’s reasonable to make such a projection.

When Sessions spoke Friday morning, the homicide count for Philadelphia was 174, according to the Philadelphia Police Department. Given 201 days had so far lapsed this year at that point, Philadelphia had experienced about .87 homicides per day. That rate would lead to 315 or 316 homicides by the end of the year.

The total would not be enough to be considered the highest of the 2010s decade, or for the 10-year period of 2008 to 2017. In 2011, 326 homicides occurred here. In 2012, the number was 331. The projected total of 316 would be about 5 percent lower than either of those years, but higher than in any other year of this decade so far.

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But the other question is whether the number says anything meaningful at this point in the year.

"There is so much variability in a low-volume crime such as homicide," said Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple,  "that predicting months ahead isn’t wise."

Indeed, last year’s homicide total appeared to be rising compared to 2015 about midway through the year. As of September 2016, the rate was 9 percent higher than at the same time period the previous year. But by 2016’s end, Philly had 278 homicides, two fewer than in 2015.

Ratcliffe has written extensively on this subject and found making early comparisons irrelevant because of fluctuations that are difficult to gauge. In January and February 2014, for instance, Philly saw about 37 percent more homicides than it did in January and February of 2013. But by the end of the year the city’s homicide rate ended up 0.4 percent higher than in 2013.

Had Sessions even made his comment just two days later, the homicide total of 174 would have been the same, per Philly Police statistics. But because it was two days later in the year, the year-over-year increase had changed to 17 percent and the projected year-end count to 312 or 313 because of a drop to about .85 homicides per day.

Our Ruling

Sessions said of Philly, "Preliminary data show that murders are up at a rate of 20 percent from last year, which will put the murder rate at the highest of this decade in the city." Homicides are up about 20 percent — and consistently have been for some time — but the latter half of his statement is wrong.

With 174 murders as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Philly was on pace to see about 316 by year’s end. The total would be lower than in 2011 (326) and 2012 (331). That’s not a sizable gap but still wouldn’t put the homicide count at the highest of this decade. On top of that, the merits of making such projections are questionable, given the high variability of homicide.

We rule the claim Mostly False.

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PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Mostly False
Preliminary murder rates in Philadelphia "will put the murder rate at the highest of this decade in the city."
In a speech
Friday, July 21, 2017

Our Sources

Email interview, Philadelphia Police Department, July 24, 2017.

Email interview, AG Jeff Sessions spokesperson, July 24, 2017.

Email interview, Jerry Ratcliffe, July 21, 2017.

News article, "Philadelphia murder rate up 20 percent, police say," April 12, 2017.

News article, "Why is Philly’s homicide rate going up?" September 16, 2016.

News article, "Year-to-date comparisons and why we should stop doing them," July 13, 2017.

Speech, AG Jeff Sessions, July 21, 2017.

Statistics, Philadelphia Police Department.

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Will Philly’s murder rate be the highest this decade, as AG Jeff Sessions said?

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