Chicago's 762 homicides in 2016 more than NYC and LA combined

© The Associated Press Veronica Aguilera, 31, carries the cross for her husband, Louis Antonio Torres, who was shot to death in November, during a quiet march along Michigan Avenue, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Chicago.
1 of Chicago's bloodiest years ends with 762 homicides

CHICAGO — One of the most violent years in Chicago history ended with a sobering tally: 762 homicides, the most in two decades in the city and more than New York and Los Angeles combined.
The nation's third largest city also saw 1,100 more shooting incidents last year than it did in 2015, according to data released Sunday by the Chicago Police Department. The statistics underline a story of bloodshed that has put Chicago at the center of a national dialogue about gun violence.

The numbers are staggering, even for those who followed the steady news accounts of weekends ending with dozens of shootings and monthly death tolls that hadn't been seen in years. The increase in homicides compared to 2015, when 485 were reported, is the largest spike in 60 years.

Police and city officials have lamented the flood of illegal guns into the city, and the crime statistics appeared to support their claims: Police recovered 8,300 illegal guns in 2016, a 20 percent increase from the previous year.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a news conference Sunday that Chicago is among many U.S. cities that have seen a spike in violence, including in attacks on police. He said anger at police, including in the wake of video released that showed a white Chicago officer shooting a black teenager 16 times, has left criminals "emboldened" to violent crimes.

He also said it's becoming clearer to criminals that they have little to fear from the criminal justice system.

"In Chicago, we just don't have a deterrent to pick up a gun," he said. "Any time a guy stealing a loaf of bread spends more time pre-trial in jail than a gun offender, something is wrong."

Johnson, who has for months complained about Illinois' lax gun laws, said he thinks more and more gang members are arming themselves because the price for being caught is small compared to other large cities. He said gang members he has spoken to consider the court system "a joke."

The bulk of the deaths and shooting incidents, which jumped from 2,426 in 2015 to 3,550 last year, occurred in only five of the city's 22 police districts on the city's South and West sides, all poor and predominantly black areas where gangs are most active.

Police said the shootings in those areas generally weren't random, with more than 80 percent of the victims having previously been identified by police as more susceptible because of their gang ties or past arrests.

The city has scrambled to address the violence. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last year that 1,000 officers would be added to the police department. At the same time, police officials have been trying to figure out why homicides and shootings — which began climbing the year before — suddenly surged.

On Sunday, Johnson said he hoped several initiatives — including more street cameras in some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods, and the expansion of gunshot-detection systems — would lead to more arrests and drive down the violent crime rate.

Johnson has said several factors have contributed to the increased violence. He noted 2016 was the first full year since the city was forced in November 2015 to release video of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the black 17-year-old boy who was shot 16 times by a white police officer.

The video cost former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy his job, sparked major protests around the city, and led to federal and state investigations of the police department.

It also left Johnson with the task of trying to restore public trust in what appeared to be a weakened police force, a perception that was only buttressed by a dramatic drop in the number of arrests in 2016.

The police department has cited several factors for the declining numbers, including a concerted effort not to make minor drug arrests and focus on gun violence. Johnson pointed to gun arrests and gun seizures as evidence that his officers are aggressively fighting crime.

But critics said they have no doubt that officers have become far more reluctant to do their jobs since the McDonald video was released and the officer who killed the teen was charged with murder.

"It's almost like a pull back so they (gangs) can kill each other sort of thing," said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a prominent minister in one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods on the West Side.

Johnson acknowledged in a recent interview with The Associated Press that officers have become more cautious — in part out of fear of becoming the next "viral video." He also said a state law that took effect last January requiring officers to fill out lengthy contact cards when they stop someone has resulted in fewer stops, because the cards require more paperwork for officers and the cards are "scrutinized" by federal judges.

He said those concerns are not lost on criminals.

"Criminals watch TV, pay attention to the media," he said. "They see an opportunity to commit nefarious activity."


Chicago's 'Out of Control' Violence Produces 762 Homicides in 2016

A long and violent year in Chicago ended with 762 homicides, police say. That's more than twice the number in New York City, where police said 335 were killed.

Last year marked Chicago's worst homicide rate in two decades, according to The Associated Press. The deceased were among 4,331 shooting victims during the year, accounting for 17.5 percent.

The stories of violence are unrelenting:

Nykea Aldridge, a mother of four, was shot dead in August after being caught in crossfire while pushing her baby in a stroller on Chicago's South Side.

In November, the 15-year-old grandson of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., was shot dead over a pair of gym shoes.

'Spiraling Out of Control'

ABC News contributor John Cohen, a law enforcement and homeland security expert whose roles have included counterterrorism coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security, described the violence in Chicago as "spiraling out of control."

Beyond Chicago, he said, “a growing number of major cities are receiving a significant increase in robberies, homicides and aggravated assaults.”

He cited three factors he believes may be behind the uptick in violence:

1. An increase in gang activity and violent behavior by career criminals.

2. An increase in the availability of illegal guns, coupled with an increase in criminals' willingness to use them.

3. And an increase in the reluctance by law enforcement to engage in proactive, violence prevention policies. Such hesitancy, Cohen said, is because "officers of various ranks are worried they will respond to a split-second decision and end up being the next person blasted all over the media and will lose their job."

Officers respond to their calls for service and do what they can, Cohen said, but they are "hesitant to be proactive" and "target violent criminals." Criminals sense any hesitancy, Cohen said, and believe they are less likely to be stopped.

Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson told the AP recently that officers have become more careful, partly because they're concerned about viral videos.

Johnson added at a news conference last week that police officers are not the reason for the heightened violence in Chicago; he said over 8,000 guns were recovered in 2016 and all those encounters put cops at risk.

'Empowered' Gang Members

There is no simple explanation for why the violence is so extreme, Johnson told reporters last week, but he pointed to the prevalence of gang activity. He also noted that the "the anti-police rhetoric" in Chicago and across the country "has emboldened and actually empowered these gang members to do what they do."

Gang members may believe community residents will take their side instead of the police's, he added.

Johnson said the violence in Chicago is mostly on the city's south and west sides, in areas with a history of gang conflicts.

Of the 12 killings in Chicago over Christmas weekend, he said, 90 percent of the victims had gang affiliations, criminal histories and were pre-identified by the department's "strategic subject algorithm" as being a potential offender or victim of gun violence.

The majority of the 27 shootings Christmas weekend were "targeted attacks" by gangs against potential rival gang members at holiday gatherings, Johnson said.

Cohen, the ABC News contributor, said the concentration of violence in specific neighborhoods can be explained by social issues, like a lack of education or employment, which he said can create a feeling of hopelessness for young people and may contribute to why they gravitate toward the violent gang lifestyle.

Gangs not only provide income, Cohen said, but give young people a familial connection and sense of protection. "If we don't get a handle on this problem," Cohen said, "law enforcement officials that I've been speaking to are saying ... we'll see continuing increases."

Targeting Gang Violence

Cohen suggested several steps for Chicago to get a handle on the gang violence:

First, he said, the police must identify and aggressively target violent gang members and other violent repeat offenders. "The overwhelming majority of violent crime is committed by people who have engaged in violent criminal activity," he said.

Second, police "have to work to prevent illegal guns from getting into the hands of people who cannot legally possess them," Cohen said.

"There's nobody on either side of the gun-control issue who thinks career repeat offenders ... should be able to possess a gun," he said. "And there are policing strategies that are directly focused on preventing stolen weapons from falling into the hands of violent gang members and repeat violent offenders.

"Third, you have to address the underlying issues," Cohen said.

Citing Los Angeles’ efforts in the 1980s and early-1990s, Cohen said that city successfully worked to address underlying issues in neighborhoods that contributed to a sense of hopelessness.

As in Chicago now, L.A. crime then was spiraling out of control, driven by violent gang activity, he said.

First, L.A. police initiated dramatic uniformed and undercover police presences; Cohen said he and other law enforcement officers zeroed in on South Central Los Angeles communities to find the most violent, repeat offenders and target them with federal prosecution.

Also, authorities in L.A. worked with local government and community groups to address some of the underlying issues, like poor education opportunities, Cohen added.

The aggressive enforcement, coupled with addressing the underlying issues, brought significant decreases in gang activity, and violent crime more broadly, in South Central Los Angeles, he said.

Without addressing the underlying issues, Cohen said, "there will be a revolving door" of people who will engage in violent behavior.

The Community-Police Relationship

Cohen also cited trust between communities and police as something that’s missing nowadays in cities including Chicago, where he said law enforcement officers need to engage proactively with residents, understand what's important to communities and work with them.

Cohen complimented New York City's police officers, saying they go to community meetings and ask what issues are important to the community, which "changes the dynamic" of the conversation. In return, people are willing to talk to officers about problems, he said, which creates personal relationships.

A Call for Legislative Change

Johnson, the Chicago police superintendent who called the level of violence in his city "unacceptable," is pushing for a legislative change to help curb the "reckless gun culture" in Chicago. Johnson said he hopes a new law will give judges autonomy to sentence repeat gun offenders to the middle- or high-end of the range, because he says repeat offenders are not willing to "play by society's rules."

“I just don’t believe that we hold repeat gun offenders accountable for their actions," he told reporters Dec. 26, adding that the city must change the narrative so offenders don’t want to pick up a gun.

Johnson hopes the legislation will give cops "a fighting chance" to hold offenders accountable to begin to change the narrative in the city.

"We all have a vested interest in reducing this gun violence," he said. "It's not OK and it's not normal. When I go home and my neighbors see me, they are constantly asking what can we do to reduce this gun violence?

"We know that the long-term solutions [are] to invest in these impoverished areas, provide more jobs, better education," Johnson said, adding, "The urgent solution right now is for state legislatures to help us with this gun bill.

"If you pick up a gun and shoot somebody you should go to prison, period," he said. "You don’t get a pass from me."


Chicago saw more 2016 murders than NYC, LA combined

 

One of the most violent years in Chicago history ended with a sobering tally: 762 homicides, the most in two decades in the city and more than New York and Los Angeles combined.

The nation’s third largest city also saw 1,100 more shooting incidents in 2016 than it did in 2015, according to data released Sunday by the Chicago Police Department. New York, the nation’s largest city, logged 334 homicides in 2016, according to the New York Daily News, while the country’s second-largest city, Los Angeles, saw 294, reports the LA Times.

The Chicago statistics underline a story of bloodshed that has put the city at the center of a national dialogue about gun violence.

The numbers are staggering, even for those who followed the steady news accounts of weekends ending with dozens of shootings and monthly death tolls that hadn’t been seen in years. The increase in homicides compared to 2015, when 485 were reported, is the largest spike in 60 years.

Police and city officials have lamented the flood of illegal guns into the city, and the crime statistics appeared to support their claims: Police recovered 8,300 illegal guns in 2016, a 20 percent increase from the previous year.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a news conference Sunday that Chicago is among many U.S. cities that have seen a spike in violence, including in attacks on police.

Several of the top 10 largest U.S. cities saw a spike last year in homicides. San Antonio police say they investigated 151 homicides in 2016, marking the deadliest year in the Alamo city in more than two decades. The homicide count - up 61 percent from a year ago - is the highest since 142 homicides were reported in 1995. Last year, the tally was 94.

In San Jose, 47 homicides were reported in 2016, a 25-year high, reports the San Jose Mercury News. San Diego and Dallas also saw upticks in murders last year, but year-end data wasn’t immediately available.

While New York City saw a slight decrease in homicides and Los Angeles a slight increase for 2016, both have hit historic lows in the past several years. Philadelphia, which has also seen a dip in murder rates overall, saw a small decrease for 2016.

Johnson said anger at police, including in the wake of video released that showed a white Chicago officer shooting a black teenager 16 times, has left criminals “emboldened” to violent crimes.

He also said it’s becoming clearer to criminals that they have little to fear from the criminal justice system.

“In Chicago, we just don’t have a deterrent to pick up a gun,” he said. “Any time a guy stealing a loaf of bread spends more time pre-trial in jail than a gun offender, something is wrong.”

Johnson, who has for months complained about Illinois’ lax gun laws, said he thinks more and more gang members are arming themselves because the price for being caught is small compared to other large cities. He said gang members he has spoken to consider the court system “a joke.”

The bulk of the deaths and shooting incidents, which jumped from 2,426 in 2015 to 3,550 last year, occurred in only five of the city’s 22 police districts on the city’s South and West sides, all poor and predominantly black areas where gangs are most active.

Police said the shootings in those areas generally weren’t random, with more than 80 percent of the victims having previously been identified by police as more susceptible because of their gang ties or past arrests.

The city has scrambled to address the violence. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last year that 1,000 officers would be added to the police department. At the same time, police officials have been trying to figure out why homicides and shootings - which began climbing the year before - suddenly surged.

In a tweet, President-elect Donald Trump called the Chicago murder rate “record setting” and said, “If Mayor can’t do it he must ask for Federal help!”

Emanuel said in 2015 he welcomed federal help after the U.S. Justice Department announced a civil rights probe into the department.   

On Sunday, Johnson said he hoped several initiatives - including more street cameras in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, and the expansion of gunshot-detection systems - would lead to more arrests and drive down the violent crime rate.

Johnson has said several factors have contributed to the increased violence. He noted 2016 was the first full year since the city was forced in November 2015 to release video of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the black 17-year-old boy who was shot 16 times by a white police officer.

The video cost former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy his job, sparked major protests around the city, and led to federal and state investigations of the police department.

It also left Johnson with the task of trying to restore public trust in what appeared to be a weakened police force, a perception that was only buttressed by a dramatic drop in the number of arrests in 2016.

The police department has cited several factors for the declining numbers, including a concerted effort not to make minor drug arrests and focus on gun violence. Johnson pointed to gun arrests and gun seizures as evidence that his officers are aggressively fighting crime.

But critics said they have no doubt that officers have become far more reluctant to do their jobs since the McDonald video was released and the officer who killed the teen was charged with murder.

“It’s almost like a pull back so they (gangs) can kill each other sort of thing,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a prominent minister in one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods on the West Side.

Johnson acknowledged in a recent interview with The Associated Press that officers have become more cautious - in part out of fear of becoming the next “viral video.” He also said a state law that took effect last January requiring officers to fill out lengthy contact cards when they stop someone has resulted in fewer stops, because the cards require more paperwork for officers and the cards are “scrutinized” by federal judges.

He said those concerns are not lost on criminals.

“Criminals watch TV, pay attention to the media,” he said. “They see an opportunity to commit nefarious activity.”

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