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Violent crime rates are declining in Philadelphia. Here's why, according to Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel.

Police Commisioner Kevin Bethel opens up about Philadelphia's declining crime rates
Police Commisioner Kevin Bethel opens up about Philadelphia's declining crime rates 03:40

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia is seeing some of its lowest violent crime rates in years. While city leaders believe more work remains, Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel is optimistic as crime in the city is at its lowest rate in over a decade.

"It's promising," Bethel said. "The city has endured a lot over these last three or four years. It's exciting to come out of the start of 2024, seeing almost 38% reduction in our homicides and more importantly, almost 42% reduction in our shootings."

The commissioner added there is a 50% decline in youth homicides.

Bethel, who became police commissioner in January, said he's proud of his team who, every day, face the unknown.

"I can't tell you, Natasha, how it's such an honor to be leading these men and women. The resiliency that they've displayed," Bethel said. "Also, credit to our homicide unit. We have almost an 80% clearance rate on the offenses, the homicides that are occurring."

Bethel said much of the success is from collaboration, focusing on specific crime-ridden districts that make up most of the violence.

"We combine that now with our partners, our federal partners. As you've seen, we've done a lot of partnerships with ATF and DEA and FBI and Homeland Security," Bethel said. "We have 21 patrol districts, but 10 of them … 77% of our violence occurs there."

Cracking down on illegal ATVs in Philadelphia

While violent crime numbers are dropping, Bethel knows the summer poses more of a challenge with a general uptick in crime.

"We will be enforcing our curfew," Bethel said. "We have more bike officers. We have our motorbikes. We're actually buying 30 more motorbikes. We're grateful for our fleet management team to be able to do that, to help us with our ATV strategy but also help us down here. And we're putting foot beats out."

The commissioner in April laid out an extensive safety plan to City Council and Mayor Cherelle Parker that includes tackling the ongoing issue of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs.

"We've actually recovered more ATVs now this year than we had all of last year," Bethel said.

Dangerous car meetups are also becoming a growing problem throughout the city.

"On a weekly basis, we're putting up our ATV and car meetup detail," Bethel said, "and we believe we have an effective strategy."

Bethel promises to "restore order to Kensington"

One of the biggest safety challenges for the Philadelphia Police Department has become the ever-evolving effort to clean up the open-air drug market in Kensington.

"Very soon, we will then move into our Phase 2, which will be a significant increase in our enforcement down there," Bethel said. "One of our core processes is going after those who are selling drugs in that community."

It's already begun by removing long-standing encampments, which was the first move in a multi-phase initiative.

"It is one of the most violent pockets of the city of Philadelphia and I would probably submit to you the East Coast," Bethel said. "We are going to restore order to Kensington. We've made this commitment to the community."

The commissioner spoke candidly about expansive goals to lower crime rates and bring a sense of safety to Philadelphians.

For him, this mission is personal.

"I will never make the assumption that my mother-in-law, who lives in the middle of North Philadelphia, feels safe enough until she tells me," Bethel said. "Yes, we look at the numbers, but at the end of the day, the numbers will absolutely mean nothing if the folks out there don't feel it."

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