By PATRICK WALTERS
Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA- Less than two-thirds of the way through the year, Philadelphia police officers have shot and killed 16 people - already the highest annual total in the city in at least a quarter-century.Department officials said that gun violence in Philadelphia _ famed as the City of Brotherly Love _ is up and that criminals seem to be quicker these days to threaten police and others with a weapon, forcing officers to defend themselves.
"It's not an issue of people not following policy," said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, who added that the department was not seeing any repeat shooters in is ranks.
In all of last year, officers shot seven suspects to death. Since 1980, FBI figures shows the worst year for justified homicides by Philadelphia police officers was 2004, when there were 15. Neither the FBI nor the department had data for the years before 1980.
Authorities said most, if not all, of the shootings involved officers who were threatened or feared for their safety. No charges have been brought against any officers.
The latest shooting came early Sunday, when an officer killed a suspect during a chase in the Old City neighborhood. Authorities said the officer told them that the suspect had pointed a weapon at him, and that a gun was found at the scene.
Philadelphia had 220 homicides this year through Monday, an increase of more than 7 percent over the same period last year.
Experts outside the department said that the number of police shootings is alarming and needs to be monitored. But they emphasized that the statistics alone cannot tell the story.
"If the streets are becoming more deadly for the officers ... well, then they have to shoot or be killed," said Ellen Green-Ceisler, who in 2005 completed a report on officer-involved shootings in Philadelphia while head of a court-approved police accountability unit. "You have to be so careful of 20-20 hindsight."
Mayor John Street also has emphasized that officers have a right to defend themselves and should not be automatically second-guessed.
In Miami, police said there have been no fatal shootings by officers in 2006. In Los Angeles, six suspects had been killed in officer-involved shootings through July 5, similar to the pace in 2005 and down from 2004, Los Angeles police spokeswoman April Harding said.