Chicago: Homicides already pass mark for 2011, defying trend in other US cities

While the murder rate in Chicago is half of what it was decades ago, it is rising even as homicides in other major US cities like New York and Los Angeles are falling.

With two months left in 2012, the number of homicides in Chicago has already surpassed the total count for all of 2011, a trend sharply at odds with other large US cities.

Deadly shootings over the weekend pushed the Chicago homicide total to 435, two more than the 2011 total of 433. Year-end homicide counts reached 436 in 2010 and 436 in 2009.

Most criminologists say murder rates need to be examined over a long period to assess reasons for movement, whether up or down. In fact, the Chicago homicide rate is half of what it was in decades past. In 1991, for example, homicides in the city totaled 928.

However, the early bump in Chicago runs counter to trends in both New York City and Los Angeles, the two largest metropolitan areas in the US. Year-to-date homicides in New York ending Oct. 21 are at 339; in 2011, the total homicide count was 515. For Los Angeles, year-to-date homicides reached 241; the total homicide count was 297 in 2011.

The past summer was one of the deadliest on record in Chicago. Weekend shooting totals drew national attention and put the city on the defensive as it sought to explain the skyrocketing rate as an increase in gang-on-gang violence.

In July, the police department launched a plan of action it called the Gang Violence Reduction Strategy, which focused on prevention to possibly reduce retaliatory violence. The plan also coordinated police efforts with other city services to target environmental factors that may breed violence, including street graffiti, broken streetlights, and abandoned buildings.

According to city officials, the strategy is responsible so far for 1,492 arrests and the seizure of $122 million in narcotics. Last week, the city announced that, in targeting gang factions, the city prevented more than 5,500 gang members from returning to the streets.

One long-term strategy in the city is cracking down on gun ownership. While Chicago became the last city in the US to allow the sale and possession of handguns, city and Cook County officials have tried other ways to make owning a gun more difficult within city borders.

One recent method: a proposed tax on firearms and bullets by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Under the proposal, announced last week, the county would impose a nickel tax on each bullet sold and a $25 fee for each firearm sold, affecting the 40 federally licensed gun dealers in the county. Law enforcement officials will be exempt from the tax, which is estimated to generate about $1 million annually and to be used for agencies that provide medical care for gunshot victims.

“The legal gun shops in suburban Cook County are a conduit for crimes in Chicago. There’s no way around it,” Ms. Preckwinkle told a local newspaper editorial board in a transcript released by her office last week.

City police officials also announced last week the department is adopting technology that will detect and locate gunshots in two 1.5-square-mile areas on the South and West Sides, which will allow for a speedier response by police and better forensic and crime analysis.

The increase in Chicago homicides contradicts new numbers released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Monday that shows the number of violent crimes reported to police decreased nearly 4 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year. In 2011, 64.8 percent of violent crimes were homicides.

While more than 60 percent of violent crimes, including homicides, took place in Southern and Western states, nearly 20 percent took place in the Midwest.

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