October 4, 2013 | Jeremy Glover | Chicago Tribune (Chicagoland)
Despite improved crime numbers early this year, violent summer puts deaths at 2011 levels
(Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune / September 27, 2013)
Through the first nine months of this year, homicides in Chicago have declined significantly over a disastrous 2012 that saw killings surpass the 500 mark.
The pace of improvement, however, has slowed sharply in recent months, putting the city on target to finish the year with close to the same number of homicides as in 2011.
Despite the year-to-year improvement, Chicago still leads all major U.S. cities in the number of homicides.
Through September, Chicago recorded 321 homicides, a 21 percent drop over 407 in the year-earlier period, official department statistics show. But the numbers aren’t nearly as strong when compared with the first nine months of 2011, when there were 317 killings.
Shootings, though, are down substantially through the first three quarters of 2013, not just over last year’s figures but also compared with 2011′s. Through September, shootings have dropped 22 percent over last year and about 14 percent over 2011, the statistics show.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has regularly touted the improved crime numbers, saying on more than one occasion that the homicide figures were the lowest for Chicago since the 1960s or even the late 1950s. He has credited saturating high-crime areas with additional officers, using intelligence to prevent retaliatory gang shootings and moving 200 officers back to the street from desk duty.
The department also spent tens of millions of dollars on overtime pay to, at one time, more than 400 cops a day to work in the city’s most crime-plagued neighborhoods on their days off. Additional rookie cops have worked straight time in those neighborhoods on foot patrols.
Despite the improvements over last year’s numbers, McCarthy has faced an uphill battle communicating his positive message every time there’s a high-profile gang shooting — from the slaying of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in January in a park near President Barack Obama’s home to the shooting of 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy, at another South Side park last month.
While McCarthy scoffs at the weather as a factor, criminologists said the unseasonably warm start to 2012 contributed greatly to homicides topping 500 last year for the first time since 2008. The more typical winter weather early this year helped produce sharply lower homicide figures through the first three months.
But as spring and summer rolled along, the improvement in the homicide numbers began to slow, more sharply over the last three months. In the third quarter, killings totaled 137, down from 148 in the year-earlier period.
Arthur Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago, called the bloodshed of 2012 “an aberration” that was attributable to the “unseasonably warm late winter and early spring and an explosion of fractionalization within street gangs.”
“A comparison of 2013 statistics with those of 2011 suggests that the city is returning to its expected baseline number of homicides this year,” he said.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, noted that homicide levels in Chicago have generally been declining over the past decade.
Still, he said, police have difficulty preventing homicides despite their best strategies.
“I don’t think you can change the unemployment through the police. It’s really hard to have an impact on the flow of illegal guns,” he said.
Even with the improved numbers, Chicago remains far ahead of other big cities with its number of homicides so far this year. New York City has had 240 slayings and Los Angeles has 203, according to police statistics from late September, the most recent numbers available for the two cities. As of Thursday, Philadelphia had recorded 189 slayings.
The Chicago Police Department’s official homicide tally, which is reported to the FBI for its annual Uniform Crime Report, did not include four killings — three of which took place within city limits on expressways patrolled by state police. The homicide figures also do not include “death investigations” that could later be reclassified as homicides.
A Tribune analysis shows there have been 1,700 shooting victims through Sept. 26. Although 13 people were wounded in last month’s shooting in Cornell Square Park, the Police Department counts that as just one of the nearly 1,500 shooting incidents tallied over the first nine months of 2013.
McCarthy has repeatedly blamed Chicago’s violence in part on weak gun laws and lenient sentences for offenders caught carrying illegal guns.