Chicago’s year off to deadliest start in nearly two decades

Chicago+police+officers+work+on+the+scene+where+three+officers+were+shot+in+the+3700+block+of+West+Polk+Street+on+March+14+in+the+Homan+Square+neighborhood+of+Chicago.%C2%A0
Back to Article
Back to Article

Chicago’s year off to deadliest start in nearly two decades

Chicago police officers work on the scene where three officers were shot in the 3700 block of West Polk Street on March 14 in the Homan Square neighborhood of Chicago. 

Chicago police officers work on the scene where three officers were shot in the 3700 block of West Polk Street on March 14 in the Homan Square neighborhood of Chicago. 

Chicago police officers work on the scene where three officers were shot in the 3700 block of West Polk Street on March 14 in the Homan Square neighborhood of Chicago. 

Chicago police officers work on the scene where three officers were shot in the 3700 block of West Polk Street on March 14 in the Homan Square neighborhood of Chicago. 

By Jeremy Gorner, Chicago Tribune

As the first quarter of 2016 nears an end, violence in Chicago has reached levels unseen in years, putting the city on course to top 500 homicides for only the second time since 2008.

As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, homicides totaled 135, a 71 percent jump over the 79 killings in the same year-earlier period, official Chicago Police Department statistics show. That represented the worst first quarter of a year since 136 homicides in 1999, according to the data.

Shootings have jumped by comparable numbers as well. As of Wednesday, at least 727 people had been shot in Chicago so far this year, a 73 percent rise from 422 a year earlier, according to a Tribune analysis of department data.

Advertisement

Worse yet, that jump follows two consecutive years in which shootings rose by double digits, the analysis found. Homicides also rose by about 12.5 percent last year over 2014.

If there was any hopeful sign in the numbers, it would be that for most of March, homicides rose citywide by a more modest 25 percent from the same year-earlier period, the department said.

Crime experts caution about making year-to-year comparisons, but Arthur Lurigio, a professor of criminal justice and psychology at Loyola University Chicago, called the escalating violence at the start of the year “alarming.”

“We have to go back decades to find jumps of this magnitude in year-to-year comparisons,” he said. “We’re on our way to 500 homicides again. We’re going backward.”

After an unrelated news conference Wednesday, new interim police Superintendent Eddie Johnson found an optimistic note in the recent slowing of the percentage increase in homicides.

“If we can build on that momentum, we’ll be doing good,” he said.

Johnson said gang conflicts and the proliferation of guns continue to fuel the violence. The department also disclosed that more than half of the homicide victims so far this year had been targeted as likely gun violence victims or offenders in a novel program in which commanders try to persuade them to give up the gang life.

“We know who is committing these crimes. It’s a small segment of the population,” Johnson told the Tribune. “We have those individuals targeted. One of the things we have to do is ensure we hold those individuals accountable when they commit these crimes.”

The surge in violence comes at a tumultuous time for the police department. On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel passed over the three finalists his hand-picked police board had chosen for police superintendent and instead plucked Johnson from the command staff for the post.

In December, Emanuel had fired Garry McCarthy after four years in the job amid the public furor after the court-ordered release of a dashboard camera video showing a white Chicago police officer shoot Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing the black teen as he walked away from police with a knife in his hand.

In February, the Tribune reported a precipitous drop in morale among Chicago police, citing interviews with numerous officers. They told the newspaper the McDonald shooting had made them less aggressive on the street out of fear that doing even basic police work would get them into trouble. Criminals were taking advantage of their passive approach, they said.

___

(c)2016 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Advertisement