Monday, January 4, 2021

Philly's Official 2020 Body Count: 499 Murders

By Ralph Cipriano

How many people were murdered in Philadelphia during 2020?

In the last few days, that number appeared to be a moving target. On Friday, New Year's Day, the official tally for last year's murders that was posted on the police department's crime stats website was 498.

This morning at 9 a.m., the 2020 body count on that same website was briefly raised to 502. But just two hours later, it was lowered to 499.

The city's explanation for today's downgrade from 502 murders last year to 499 murders: it was a statistical error made by a web designer, an explanation that left some cops shaking their heads, and muttering about a possible official coverup. 

The official 2020 body count of 499,  however, still represents a whopping 40% increase over 2019, when there were only 356 murders. The official 2020 body count of 499 murders also left the city just one body short of the all-time record set 30 years ago, in 1990, at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, when the city had a total of 500 murders. 

In an email, Corporal Jasmine Reilly of the Philadelphia Police Department's Office of Media Relations/Public Affairs explained today's differing body counts by saying: 

"The correct homicide totals for 2020 is 499. When the web developer was updating the website, he did not separate 2020 and 2021. The homicides that occurred at the beginning of the year were inadvertently counted into the 2020 totals. The web developer corrected the issue and the website now reflects the accurate totals."

According to Corporal Reilly, so far in 2021, the city's had four additional murders.

The city's all-time record for murders set back in 1990 appears to be another moving target. A few years ago, when the Inquirer and Daily News published a "Data Hub" that featured Philadelphia Police Department crime stats from 1988 to 2017, the newspapers cited the official homicide rate for 1990 as 497 murders.

That same body count, 497, was cited by Wikipedia, among other websites. But when the Inquirer ran a story today about the 2020 body count, that 1990 murder rate jumped to 500.

Last year's body count quickly became a political issue.

Carlos Vega, a former career homicide prosecutor who's running for the Democratic nomination for district attorney, said today that the current D.A., Larry Krasner, is responsible for the high murder rate, because "Larry Krasner has legalized drugs in Philadelphia." At the same time he's not prosecuting gun crimes, Vega said.

"There's a direct correlation between not prosecuting gun crimes" and a record number of shootings on the streets of Philadelphia last year, Vega said. He quoted Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw who testified to the City Council that the prosecution of gun crimes under D.A. Larry Krasner's office was down nearly 85%.

"The police are doing their job and Larry Krasner is deciding not to prosecute," Vega said, adding that some drug dealers are arrested multiple times for carrying guns, with few consequences. 

Back in 1990, Vega said, drug dealers were shooting it out on the streets for supremacy of the drug trade. The same thing's happening now.

"Krasner has not been tough on drug dealers," Vega said about the D.A. that criminals have nicknamed "Uncle Larry."

"The great majority of these murders are the result of drug disputes over turf, and the sad thing is that a lot of children are being caught in the crossfire," Vega saod/

Drug dealers are acting so brazenly, Vega said, because they know that the drug business has never been more lucrative. The drug dealers also know that even if they get arrested, Vega said, "there's not going to be any consequences."

With Krasner in the D.A.'s office, Vega said, "the worst thing the drug dealers are going to get is probation."

And what did Krasner have to say in response to candidate Vega's serious charges? As he has for the past 17 months, Krasner continues to stonewall Big Trial, and not respond to any questions. Neither did Jane Roh, Krasner's alleged spokesperson. 

Memo to Larry and Jane: with the May 18th Democratic primary for D.A. on the horizon, we're just getting started here. If you think stonewalling is an effective media strategy during a reelection campaign, well, you might want to rethink that.

Meanwhile, while local drug dealers were shooting each other over control of the local drug trade, local TV reporters were fighting for the right to interview Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw about the record murder rate.

Maggie Kent of 6ABC, who may have been handicapped by being a blonde, put in a request for an interview, but Outlaw turned her down.

Outlaw, however, did agree to an interview with reporter Erin Coleman of NBC10, an interview that focused on a different issue rather than the city's sky-high murder rate. On camera, Outlaw commiserated with another black female the problem of, as Coleman put it, "what's it really like being the first black woman at the top coming in from the outside." 

"I didn't feel like an outsider when I got here," Outlaw told Coleman. "Yeah, I was treated like an outsider and yeah, I'm still treated like an outsider."

"When we talking about being a first, being a first, along with that comes you don't get the benefit of the doubt," Outlaw told Coleman.

"So it doesn't matter that I came here with qualifications and experience in all of these things that the administration saw which ultimately gave me this job," Outlaw told Coleman.

"I have to walk in the door, even before I get here, having to prove and prove some more," Outlaw complained about the job that pays her $285,000 a year. 

Does anybody remember Jackie Robinson whining like that? The topic of discussion finally turned to last year's count of nearly 500 murders.

"The numbers for sure aren't helping me out because they're not helping anyone out," Outlaw told Coleman.

But then, Outlaw came up with an alibi for Philly's high murder rate -- the Coronavirus pandemic. 

"And I would really, really, really be even more concerned if it [escalating gun violence] was specific to Philadelphia," Outlaw said. "There are so many other cities -- major, mid size, smaller cities -- that are experiencing this same thing and that tells me there's a commonality there, there's a common theme there, right, and it's this pandemic."

Seriously, Commissioner Outlaw, do you expect anyone to buy that? Carlos Vega, for one, dismissed it as nonsense.

"The pandemic had nothing to do with it," Vega said about the city's epidemic of gun violence, and near record murder rate.

"These drug-related murders are happening out on the street where gang members are fighting for turf," Vega said. "All of these murders are occurring outdoors. If you ask any of the victims, the murderers were not social distancing."

"If there was no pandemic, the murder rate would be just as high as it is now." 

The last person to weigh in on the city's murder rate was Captain Jason Smith, head of the city's homicide detectives.

Smith said the real number of 2020 homicides was indeed 499. 

"There was a little bit of a snafu which was brought to my attention earlier, that they mistakenly put that count at 502" murders, Smith said. What happened was "three jobs that happened after midnight" [on New Year's Eve] were mistakenly included in the 2020 tally, he said. 

Captain Smith was also forthcoming about the Police Department's "special assignments," a tally that includes suspicious deaths in 2020 that was up to 173.

Some cops have speculated that the special assignments, known among the cops as "S jobs," is a way for the department to hide a few dead bodies to keep the murder count down.

No way, Captain Smith said. Once or twice a month, he conducts a "very thorough" audit of those special assignments, and, "I can assure you that we are not hiding any murders in our S jobs."

As proof of what he was talking about, Captain Smith pointed to Homicide No. 496 from 2020. 

Anthony Harris was struck by a blunt instrument in a Chinese restaurant way back in 2016. His injuries rendered him a paraplegic, the captain said. He died last summer. On Dec. 22nd last year, after the medical examiner determined that Harris's death was a result of injuries suffered from his original blunt force trauma injuries in 2016, Harris was officially added to the 2020 murder count as Homicide Victim No. 496.

Captain Smith has served as head of homicide since December, 2018. As a result of his monthly audits, six extra murders were added to the 2019 murder count, boosting the number of homicides from the original 350 to 356.

Those special assignments not only include suspicious deaths, but also jobs on the fugitive task force, where Philly cops are cooperating in homicide investigations of suspects wanted in other jurisdictions. Cops working on the fugitive task force often work in tandem with the FBI and the U.S. Marshals. 

Many suspicious deaths, Smith said,  turn out to be something other than murder.

"It's not always what it appears to be," Smith said. For example, he cited a case where one woman's naked body was found in a trash container, and another case where another woman's body was found wrapped in a tote bag.

"There were no signs of physical trauma," Smith said. And when the medical examiner's office did toxicology reports on the two bodies, they discovered that the two women died of overdoses.

"We looked at every single S job in 2020, and there's nothing in danger of flipping to an 'm,'" the captain said about what happens in police records when a suspicious death is changed to a murder.

"We're not sitting on anything," he said. "I'm very tenacious when it comes to this."


  1. Do you really think anyone believes any brass in the city? Give me a break! They are all liars and all full of shit. They only care about saving face and giving lip service. The jig is up. Everyone knows.

    1. I'm as cynical as anybody when it comes to dealing with any public official in this town. But in the case of Captain Jason Smith here, he came armed to our interview armed with the facts, and came off as a very credible witness, a guy who has no time for B.S.

      I, for one, came away believing him.

    2. That's good enough for me.

  2. Danielle Outlaw's job is to sit in her office worrying about fingernail polish, writing emails, and evading any sort of responsibility. Is she the leader, yes or no?

    1. Signs of a Spineless Leader
      They answer questions by beginning with, “That’s a good question.” This gives spineless leaders time to choreograph a political response that either fails to answer the question or does so in vague terms.

  3. The three homicides previously credited to 2020 showed up this morning in the 2021 count. The PPD now admits to 499 homicides for 2020, an increase of 40 percent over 2019. So now they admit to 7 homicides for 2021 YTD, an increase of 75% over 2020, YTD. Commissioner Nails is blaming Covid-19.

  4. It’s always someone else’s fault, bottom line it’s young black males shooting and killing other young black males but nobody has the guts to address it. Instead there’s always an excuse... blame the pandemic, or lack of jobs, or poverty, or education, or lack of programs.. it’s always an excuse. I don’t see people killing each other daily in the far NE or Manayunk or Roxborough and they’re dealing with the pandemic too. Outlaw should resign, she got the job by default no way she was the most qualified “person” for the job.

    1. She wasn’t supposed to get the job. It was supposed to go to Renee Hall. Last minute she backed out and sent the Mayor scrambling looking for a replacement. Voila. He found the Puppet Danielle Outlaw.

  5. As Someone who has suffered under the Power of Ruthless Editors and The Exclusion and Denial of Fair Access to Politicians in the Quest for Fair and Honest Reporting and Answers, Will You Close Your Twitter Account in Solidarity with the Movement Against Fascist Censorship??

    Jason Brando

  6. Jason, Twitter is a Fascist sewer and the time it's time to leave. But what's the alternative? The conservative start-up is being heavily censored as well.

    1. There's no censorship on GAB. What is your proof otherwise? Sad that you felt the need to label a forum as "conservative". They should simply be 2 categories. Censored or Fee Speech.


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