Shooting victims often are violators

Those shot in Phila. increasingly have mug shots on file. Violence is largely confined to poor areas, a study found.

Posted: July 16, 2007

A new study by Philadelphia criminologists says that an increasing number of people shot in the city have had previous brushes with the law.

Twenty-four percent of shooting victims last year had pending criminal court cases against them at the time they were shot, according to a report by researchers with the Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department. In 2002, 18 percent of shooting victims had "open bills" against them.

Thirty percent of gun-homicide victims last year had pending criminal cases at the time they were killed, up from 20 percent in 2003, according to the report.

The analysts did not attempt to categorize the pending criminal charges against the victims to determine whether they were minor offenses or violent acts.

But the report reinforces other studies nationally that show that the demographic of people firing guns and those getting shot often overlap. And the data shows that in a city of nearly 1.5 million people now undergoing an unsettling increase in homicides - 406 people were killed last year; there have been 221 killed this year as of yesterday - that violence is largely confined to the city's impoverished quarters.

"It's not happening everywhere, and it's not happening to everybody," said Ellen Kurtz, director of research for the probation department.

While not wanting to minimize the killings, Kurtz said: "Many of these people were not choirboys on their way to church when they got shot."

Two-thirds of shooting victims last year had police mug shots on file from a previous arrest.

The data supports decisions that public officials have made to focus crime-prevention and law-enforcement resources on the people most likely to commit violence, said Denise Clayton, coordinator of the city's Youth Violence Reduction Partnership.

"Because of the media attention to the homicide rate, people are now saying this is a dangerous city," Clayton said. "But it's a very narrow group of people in this world of violence. If you are not in this world, this is not a dangerous city."

The Weapons Related Injury Surveillance System Report is the product of a philosophical shift at the probation department, which has repositioned itself to take on more of a crime-prevention role in addition to its monitoring of 52,000 offenders.

"This kind of report was never was done before," said Robert Malvestuto, chief probation and parole officer.

"Now I know who's getting shot and who's doing the shooting," he said. "Only a small number of people are doing this. We can go ask for additional resources to target and supervise people in additional ways."

The Adult Probation and Parole Department this year created the Strategic Anti-Violence Unit, which will target about 75 offenders thought to be the most likely to commit homicide, based on predictive modeling done by the University of Pennsylvania's Jerry Lee Center of Criminology. The unit's clients receive cognitive behavioral therapy, job counseling, drug treatment, and home visits.

"By focusing on the cases most likely to commit the most serious offense - homicide - the APPD now has access to what may be the most advanced risk-assessment tool in the country," Lawrence W. Sherman, the director of Penn's criminology program, told a congressional hearing this year.

According to Sherman, as many as three-quarters of the murders in Philadelphia may involve convicted or charged offenders who are under the supervision of the probation department or another supervision agency, such as the court's pretrial division.

Sherman testified that adult offenders are seven times as likely to commit murder as the average city resident, and four times as likely to get murdered.

The new report, focusing on victims, may help researchers devise a second model that predicts which offenders are likely to get shot, said Kurtz, the probation department's research director.

For now, the data is "basically descriptive information" that tracks trends and allows parole officers to question offenders who have been shot to determine whether there is a risk of retaliation.

One aspect of the report that may help public officials focus resources into problem areas looked at which police districts reported the most shootings - not just by the number of incidents, but by the shooting rates for each 100,000 residents.

According to the report, the highest shooting rates were in the 22d, 23d and 25th Districts in North Philadelphia, the 16th District in West Philadelphia, and the 12th District in Southwest Philadelphia.

But only three of those districts - the 12th, the 22d and the 25th - are among the five districts under the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership, the multiagency program that targets offenders under age 25 for intensive visits by social workers and probation officers. The program currently serves about 600 "youth partners."

Clayton, the program's coordinator, said that homicides have decreased from 32 to 62 percent in the three districts where the program has functioned longest, partly explaining why some districts are no longer among the city's worst for violence.

She said the city wanted to expand its efforts to other police districts, but it costs about $1.6 million to add a new area, "and we do not have additional funding."

Other aspects of the probation department's report support commonly known facts about the city's crime trends: That young black men are more likely to commit homicides - as well as to be killed - than any other group.

Among the report's findings:

Contrary to assumptions that many people are shot more than once, of the 8,058 people shot from 2002 to 2006, only 4 percent were shot on more than one occasion. Three people were shot on four occasions. Two survived.

A quarter of all shooting victims were shot in the leg or legs. Only 1 percent died.

Twelve percent of shooting victims were shot in the head, 64 percent of them fatally. A quarter of them were suicides.

For more on Philadelphia's rising homicide rate, visit

Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or

comments powered by Disqus