Grim milestone: Chicago tops 700 homicides for the year
For the first time since 1998, Chicago has topped 700 homicides for the year, with a month to go that includes Christmas holiday and New Year's eve. Last year, there were 456 murders. An astonishing 4,050 people have been wounded compared to 2,699 last year.
The Police Department statistics do not include about an additional 20 killings on area expressways, as well as police-involved shootings, justifiable homicides or death investigations that could later be reclassified as homicides.
The surge in violence has come at a time of upheaval for the Police Department amid an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in the past year's fallout over the video showing the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by an officer.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who was a surprise appointment in March after his predecessor, Garry McCarthy, was fired in the blowup over the McDonald shooting, said his department is doing all it can to combat violence rooted in poverty and hopelessness.
On Tuesday, following a speech to the Union League Club, Johnson called this year's homicide totals "unacceptable," blaming what he called "a small subsection of citizens" for the violence. The department has compiled a "strategic subject list" — a computerized algorithm designed to zero in on about 1,400 mostly gang members considered most likely to shoot someone or become a victim of violence.
"The police are doing their job," Johnson told reporters. "What we need help in is holding these repeat gun offenders accountable for this gun violence, and until we do that, we're going to continue to see the cycle of violence."
Homicides peaked in Chicago at more than 900 a year in the early to mid-1990s. This year has seen homicides soar month after month to levels not seen in about two decades. The 92 homicides in August alone marked the most the city had seen for a single month since July 1993. By early September, Chicago surpassed the homicide toll for all of 2015. The Halloween weekend ended with 69 people shot, 17 fatally, the deadliest weekend of 2016. And in the just-completed November, homicides totaled 77, the worst for that month since 78 in 1994.
The city's violence continues to far outpace both New York and Los Angeles combined even though their populations far exceed Chicago's. According to official statistics through about Nov. 20, the most recent that are publicly available, New York and Los Angeles had a combined 565 homicides, less than Chicago's total. In addition, there were a combined 2,117 shooting victims in the two cities, close to half of Chicago's total.
It's not as though L.A. and N.Y. City don't have gang problems equal to or greater than Chicago's. But for the last two years, the department has been trying to recover from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's eliminating several thousand officers in an effort to save money and establish community policing. Along with ordinary attrition due to retirements, this left the department vulnerable in several of the highest-crime areas of the city.
Emanuel has initiated a crash program to hire thousands of additional officers, but it will be another two or three years before many of those new hires can help. Meanwhile, morale in the department has hit an all-time low as citizens, thanks to some high-profile police shootings, have lost trust in the ability of police to protect them.
It appears that incompetence, misjudgments, and misbehavior by some policemen have combined to make the city streets of Chicago a shooting gallery.