Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Exclusive: Shootings by Philly police soar as violent crime plummets

A man who ran away on foot during a car stop on Aug. 9, 2012, in West Philadelphia was eventually shot to death by police after the pursuit.
A man who ran away on foot during a car stop on Aug. 9, 2012, in West Philadelphia was eventually shot to death by police after the pursuit.
Story Highlights
  • Philadelphia police shot 52 suspects last year while responding to calls for reported crimes.
  • The number of police shootings climbed to the highest level it’s been in 10 years.
  • Philadelphia has had one of the highest rates of shootings by police in the nation.

The number of violent crimes fell last year in Philadelphia, as did assaults on police officers.

But the number of people shot by police is up.

Way up. 

The number of shootings by police in 2012 resulting in death or injury climbed to the highest level it’s been in 10 years. Philadelphia police shot 52 suspects last year while responding to calls for reported crimes. Of those shot, 15 people died.

More coverage
  • Poll: Should the Philadelphia Police Department be investigated?
  • And the city's own police watchdog says the department hasn't provided a reason for the increase. The Police Advisory Commission has been repeatedly blocked in its efforts to review shootings and, according to the executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, Internal Affairs has refused to supply requested information about any of the shootings. 

    Police Internal Affairs investigators and the district attorney's office have not raised any known concerns about the shootings. But the number dwarfs that of the previous year. In 2011, 35 were shot. In 2012, the shootings increased almost 50 percent. 

    Critics say the data, collected and analyzed by, raise questions about the use of deadly force in Philadelphia.

    “It certainly raises a red flag,” said David Rudovsky, the civil rights attorney and University of Pennsylvania law professor. “The numbers almost speak for themselves.”

    “If it is higher, we need to know why,” said Kelvyn Anderson, of the Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Commission.  

    Philadelphia in recent years has had one of the highest rates of shootings by police in the nation. When measured against violent crime, Philadelphia, more often than not, tops other major cities for which data were available: Dallas, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York City. 

    In an interview last month, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said he saw no need to reevaluate the use of deadly force.

    "I think we have a solid policy and consider it best practice," he said.

    Of the statistics, he said, "The numbers fluctuate from year-to-year."

    The Police Commissioner also said he was skeptical about drawing conclusions by contrasting Philadelphia to other big cities.

    "You have to put in all in context," Ramsey said: "The question is: 'What is the officer confronting on the street or why they are shooting at someone?' You have to take a look and see what the situation was at the time."

    One factor: Assaults on police.

    "We have a lot of people on the street with guns, a lot of people not afraid to use guns, and a lot of them are not afraid to assault a police officer," Ramsey said.

    He said the number of suspects who were armed with guns while assaulting police had climbed by a third last year compared with 2011, though the total number of assaults on officers was down.

    And despite that trend, the number of suspects who actually fired on police fell from a high of 12 in 2010 to a total of 3 in 2012, according to police statistics.

    The total assaults on police - regardless of whether the suspects were armed - continued their downward trend falling from 912 to 896 last year.

    "We only shot back 52 times," Ramsey said. "So it's not in every incident involving a gun do we shoot, but roughly half."

    Before coming to Philadelphia, Ramsey was commissioner in Washington D.C. When he first took command in 1998, he described the number of shootings by the Metro police force “disturbing.” The next year, he asked the Department of Justice to review the department’s use of force practices and ordered a crash firearms qualification program, according to the Washington Post. By the time he left in 2007, the number of police-involved shootings had dropped precipitously.

    Shootings by police have been a problem in Philadelphia for decades.

    As recently as 2005,  an “accountability officer” for the department released perhaps the most detailed and comprehensive report ever on gunfire by Philadelphia police. The report, by Ellen Green-Ceisler, now a Common Pleas Court judge, pointed to a “troubling trend that deserves close attention and monitoring” – a surge in the number of people killed by police compared with the late '90s.

    Since then, the accountability position has been abolished. And the figure for last year shows that the trend identified in the 2005 report has continued unabated.

    In her study, Green-Ceisler reported that over the five-year period from 1998 to 2002, police killed a total of 24 people. In contrast, in the most recent five years, police have fatally shot 65 people.

    The data also show that during the initial period analyzed in Green-Ceisler’s report, no Philadelphia officers were killed by gunfire in the line of duty. But in the last five years, 4 have died.

    All shootings are reviewed by the District Attorney's office to determine if they are legally justified. There have been no prosecutions of police-involved shootings since Ramsey took command of the force in January 2008. Some cases from 2012 are still in the hands of the DA's office, Ramsey said. Within the police department last year, Internal Affairs found 11 violations of police directives, the fewest in at least four years. Some of those violations involved shooting at, or from, a vehicle or a delay in reporting incidents.

    Comparing the use of deadly-force in comparable cities is an imperfect process, criminologists said. The FBI does not require police departments to divulge all shooting data.

    And there’s a problem in using the total number of fatalities and woundings as a basis to measure differences, said Robert J. Kane, director of the program of criminal justice at Drexel University and author of Jammed Up: Bad Cops, Police Misconduct, and the New York City Police Department. 

    “Philadelphia officers just may be better shots,” Kane said

    The best standard would be to measure all uses of deadly force - all incidents in which an officer fired a gun - “even if they didn’t hit them,” Kane said. 

    Ramsey has made that data available. While he has been commissioner, the use of deadly force has fluctuated annually between 42 and 64 incidents. In 2012, police used deadly force 59 times, up from 45 in 2011. The number topped out at 63 in 2009. 

    Other cities do not routinely provide that information to the FBI or the public, said Kane.

    "So you use the data that's available," the criminologist said. 

    One notable surge was in the sheer number of bullets police fired at suspects last year: 474. That's the most shots fired at suspects since 2004. The number of rounds has steadily increased since Ramsey's first year, when officers squeezed off only 211 shots. In 2011, police pulled the trigger 316 times firing at suspects.

    The analysis shows that Philadelphia's rate of police shootings, when compared against the number of violent crimes, was 2.90 per 1,000 incidents. 

    In recent years, five of the police departments in comparable cities were put under increased state and federal scrutiny. 

    All have had lower rates of shootings than Philadelphia.

    • In December, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation in Houston regarding six cases in which officers fatally shot or injured six unarmed individuals. The rate of shootings in Houston for 2012 was 1.25; in Philadelphia, 2.90. 
    • In August 2012, Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown announced major changes in department policy including mandatory Taser training for all officers following several police-involved shootings. In 2012, the rate of police shootings in Dallas was 2.39; in Philadelphia, 2.90. 
    • In January 2011, Baltimore launched an investigation following a police-involved shooting where two died and four were wounded. The Internal Review Board recommended several changes to deadly-force policies. The rate of police shootings in 2010 in Baltimore was 1.07; Philadelphia’s in 2010 was 2.32. The next year Baltimore’s rate was 1.58, Philadelphia’s 1.92.
    • In 2008 in Chicago the comparable rate was 1.54, vs. Philadelphia's 1.59. In early 2009, Chicago Police Superintendent Jody P. Weis ordered a Force Analysis Panel (though a report apparently still has not been issued) to review firearm discharge incidents to determine whether training, tactics, equipment or safety issues could be improved.

    Anderson, of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, is baffled by the rise in officer-involved shootings. But his efforts to review them have been stymied.

    Investigations are cloaked in secrecy. The Commission can't rule whether shootings are justified because they are denied access to the police records.

    Anderson said the police bureau of Internal Affairs has refused written requests to provide information to Commission investigators - despite an executive order requiring them to do so.

    “We believe that the department does not provide any public reckoning,” Anderson said. “That causes a lot of problems with the community. If we continue to hide the results, the public isn’t going to have much confidence in the police.

    "It’s something the city really needs to deal with," he said.  “You can’t take someone’s life without a public reckoning.”

    Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, @samwoodiii or

    This is the first story in an occasional series by examining police shootings.

    To view graphics charting the Rate of Police Shootings by city and others, open the drop down menu below. Other graphics follow.



    Rate of police shootings in each city is calculated by adding number of fatalities and injuries in a given year, dividing that result by the number of violent crimes, then multiplying by 1,000.

    Sources: FBI Uniform Crime Reports; Philadelphia Police Department; Dallas Morning News; Justin Felton at Baltimore Sun;;; NYC Annual Firearms Discharge Report,; Department of Justice,;  


    Rate of police-involved shootings 
    City  2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
    Philadelphia 2.90 1.92 2.32 2.04 1.59 1.61
    Baltimore 1.80 1.60 1.07 1.58 3.27 1.74
    Dallas 2.39 1.68 2.4 1.96 1.84 1.39
    Houston 1.25 1.05 1.29 1.25 0.89 0.77
    Las Vegas n/a 1.66 1.98 1.46 1.05 1.03
    New York  n/a 0.55 0.45 0.69 0.64 0.57
    Chicago n/a 2.24 1.62 1.90 1.61 n/a


    Sources: FBI Uniform Crime Reports; Philadelphia Police Department; Dallas Morning News; Justin Felton at Baltimore Sun;;; NYC Annual Firearms Discharge Report Department of Justice,

    Phila. police shootings resulting in death or injury
    Year Killed or injured by police Non-fatal Fatal Violent crimes Assaults on Officers Assaults w/ gun on officers Civilians who fired at police
    2012 52 37 15


    896 101 3
    2011 35 23 12


    912 76 6
    2010 43 32 11


    1,372 87 12
    2009 39 24 15 19,163 1,686 71 9
    2008 33 21 12 20,771 1,805 94 5
    2007 34 19 15


    1,528 98 5
    Totals 236 156 80 --- --- --- ---


    Source: Philadelphia Police Department


    Phila. police discharge incidents
    Year Total officers discharging  Officers firing at offenders Officers firing at animals Officers firing accidentally All offender incidents Total shots fired Officers killed/ injured by civilian fire
    2012 149 104 40


    59 577 0
    2011 111 69 37


    45 396 1
    2010 120 74 37


    51 467 0
    2009 120 82 30 8 63 394 3
    2008 93 56 34 3 42 315 4
    2007 132 97 30


    64 583 4



    Source: Philadelphia Police Department


    Violent crime by City


    (U.S. Census, 2010 population estimate)













    Las Vegas 


    2012 17,902 8,440 8,377


    21,610 52,993 n/a
    2011 18,268 8,885 8,330


    20,892 51,209 10,813
    2010 18,535 9,316 9,161


    22,491 48,489
    2009 19,163 9,664 10,221 32,062 25,593 46,357 13,039
    2008 20,771 10,080 11,420 34,159 24,779 48,430 13,324
    2007 21,180 10,816 13,248


    24,564 50,453 13,641    
        (Baltimore 2012 figure derived from BPD claim that violent crime had fallen 5%   (Chicago totals do not include forceable rape)    



    Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report, state and city law enforcement agencies

    Civilians shot by police by city 


    (2010 population)













    Las Vegas


    2012 52 15 20


    27 n/a 11
    2011 35 14 14


    22 28 18
    2010 43 10 22


    29 22
    2009 39 22 20 61 32 32 19
    2008 33 33 21 55 22 31 14
    2007 34 16 33


    19 29 14          


    Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report, state and city law enforcement agencies

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