The numbers may be down, but homicide still plagues the city.
From the January 7, 2009 Philadelphia Weekly.
Bonnie Stratton's order from JC Penney arrived in the mail a few weeks before Christmas. The box contained seat covers for her mother and underwear for her son, as well as curtains for herself. As she rifled through the package, she discovered another item - black, ankle-high boots with 2-inch heels.
She was confused because she hadn't ordered shoes. And there was no mention of them on the included receipt.
They were size 8's - her size. They fit perfectly.
Then she realized what happened.
"Seamus sent these to me," recalls Stratton, 56, referring to her boyfriend of ten years, Seamus O'Neill. "It's like a miracle. Seamus got me shoes for Christmas."
She laughs as she remembers O'Neill, 60, a longtime bartender at Port Richmond's My Blue Heaven. Her blue eyes gleam with joy.
But O'Neill was murdered on January 3, 2008. He was beaten to death with a baseball bat, wrapped in a plastic tarp and left in the basement of another Port Richmond bar, McWhitey's.
Stratton, along with O'Neill's brother, found him the next day.
"I can hardly get up in the morning now," says Stratton, who also tends bar at My Blue Heaven. "He was my soul-mate."
One year ago, during Michael Nutter's inauguration speech, the new mayor announced that he wanted the city's homicide rate to drop 30 to 50 percent over 3 to 5 years.
Then, as his first act in office, Nutter declared a crime emergency. That gave Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and his staff three weeks to devise a plan of action to curb the violence that ended 1,523 lives during the previous four years.
Ramsey's plan - which revolves around putting more officers on the street and capturing people with outstanding warrants - aimed to reduce homicides by 25 percent.
Violent crime overall in the city was down last year though the decrease in homicides fell short of Ramsey's goal. In 2008, 332 people were murdered, a 15 percent reduction from 2007's 392.
"While we've had some success, our homicides are still way too high," says Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, who oversees field operations for the department.
The department put around 200 more uniformed officers on the street, including an entire police academy class of 90 new officers. The new officers spent the summer walking beats in high crime neighborhoods. The commissioner and other top cops donned uniforms rather than suits, and they were assigned shifts on patrol.
"Everything revolves around patrol," says Ross. "When everyone sees that patrol is truly the backbone and it's not just rhetoric, then I think it goes a long way."
Police made arrests on more than 75 percent of 2008's homicides. During 2007, the clearance rate was around 58 percent. Getting the alleged perpetrators off the streets saves lives as it eliminates the potential for retaliation, according to Ross.
None of the tactics - targeting historically violent areas and flooding the streets with police - are new. But Ross believes that applying all the tactics at once has had an impact.
"To me, the police do matter as it relates to violent crime," he says. "I know some social scientists will make arguments to the contrary."
As the police continue analyzing crime statistics, they'll keep tweaking their patrolling, Ross says.
"There is nobody, including Commissioner Ramsey himself, who is satisfied with the success we've had," he adds.
"The murder rate is down but it's not down enough," says Victoria Greene, the founder of the Germantown-based anti-crime organization Every Murder is Real (EMIR). "People are encouraged but they still don't feel safe."
Four police officers were killed in the city last year, including Highway Patrol Officer Patrick McDonald, who was shot multiple times by a convicted felon who was on the lam. Miles Mack, the founder of a youth basketball league in Mantua was murdered in front of 200 people during a championship ceremony in September. A 15-year old, Tevon Rutledge, was shot in the head in February after he struck a person with a snowball. Four Simon Gratz High School students are in jail pending a murder trial after they allegedly pummeled a man on the subway platform at 13th and Market.
"We've got to wake up and work with these children," she pleads. "They can either become predators or victims."
Greene and her team counsel families dealing with murders and they run programs for at-risk youth and young adults to prevent violence.
She started the organization in 1999, two years after her 20-year old son, Emir Greene, was murdered in Germantown. The group now works with around 100 children every year.
The demand for her services has not slowed down, she says.
And now, the economy has crippled federal, state and municipal spending.
"What's really scary is the budget cuts and how that's going to affect the streets," she adds.
Ultimately, the statistics can't properly tell the stories of what was actually lost.
"I've been around the world three times," Bonnie Stratton remembers Seamus O'Neill saying, 'and this is the nicest place I've been to."
A Belfast native, O'Neill came to Port Richmond more than 30 years ago when he couldn't find work back home. Here, he drove a truck for a while and then started tending bar.
Every St. Patrick's Day, O'Neill would sport a tuxedo with a green tie and stumble to all the bars in the neighborhood. He was the kind of guy who would walk into the room, grab a drink and start telling tales in his thick, Irish brogue, Stratton says. Within a few minutes, a crowd would be gathered around him, laughing hysterically.
"If you didn't have a good time around him, it was your own fault!" Stratton boasts.
Their courtship never passed the honeymoon stage, she says. They regularly went out to dinner, saw bands, danced and traveled. O'Neill frequently brought gifts home for Stratton, and the two were always together.
"It was bliss," Stratton says. "We were so in love."