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Three straight years of falling crime rates — and yet Chicago has a long way to go

Our work will not end until Chicago is the safest big city in the country.

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As families across Chicago look ahead to 2020, we want to take a moment to reflect on how far this city has come over the past year.

On New Year’s Eve, Chicago brought 2019 to a close with a third consecutive year of historic, record-level crime reductions across the city, with robberies, burglaries and vehicle thefts at their lowest levels in more than 20 years. And with the lowest number of shootings since 2014 and murders since 2015, overall violent crime in neighborhoods across the city dropped to a four-year low.

These gains are the result of a data-informed, collaborative strategy with Chicago’s police officers, community-based organizations and street outreach groups who have dedicated their lives to keeping this city and its residents safe.

But make no mistake, we are not taking a victory lap. Our work will not end until Chicago is the safest big city in the country.

And while the numbers are improving, we know that statistics are cold comfort to the victims of the grinding violence that continues to traumatize communities across our city.

More than 260 teenagers and children were shot last year alone, 35 of whom saw their lives cut short by a bullet. While these numbers are down from 2018, this is still a grim reminder of the horrors of gun violence.

Whether it’s a 7-year-old girl shot early on Christmas morning, a child wounded by gunfire while trick-or-treating on Halloween, or 13 people struck by bullets after gunmen opened fire at a memorial; for all the gains we’ve made, it’s moments like these that show how far we still have to go.

These heinous, unconscionable acts have no place in our city, and we can never give safe harbor to perpetrators of violence.

Communities are shattered and families suffer from the on-going trauma of devastating and relentless violence. Such violence is not normal. We cannot allow ourselves to grow numb to it.

Now, more than ever, our faith must overcome our fears, and residents must continue to take back their communities block by block, together.

Ending the tragedy of gun violence demands that we continue our work to build trust between our police department and the communities they serve.

Trust is the best public safety tool we have. It’s earned through officers being invested in improving the neighborhoods they serve — one block party, one softball game, one community barbecue at a time.

2020 will mark Chicago’s first full year under the federally-mandated consent decree to reform our police department and lay the foundation for accountability and transparency. Its ultimate success depends on our officers viewing it as an opportunity not an obstacle.

As chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Charlie Beck led his city through its own consent decree, and worked to restore integrity to a department plagued by distrust and corruption. Now, as interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, he is laying the groundwork for our own road to reform and moving Chicago toward a policing model that relies on constitutional, compassionate and culturally fluent officers who carry a mindset of respect with them every day.

But our officers can’t do this alone. It takes an all-hands-on-deck effort. And they are being joined by violence interrupters, blocks clubs and faith groups that have immersed themselves into the fabric of neighborhoods under a singular mission to protect the city we all call home.

The violence we are facing is the result of years upon years of disinvestments in our South Side and West Side communities. It will take time to fix.

Whether it’s providing mentoring and group-based therapy to 400 teenagers at the highest risk of gun violence through our Summer for Change initiative; working with 30 neighborhood-based organizations to provide treatment services and job training to communities hit hardest by addiction and violence; or aligning an unprecedented $750 million in public, private and philanthropic investments into our South and West Side neighborhoods; the meaningful gains we make in public safety today started by investing in our people and neighborhoods and focusing on the root causes of gun violence.

In 2019, we drove down crime to a historic low and started to change the narrative in Chicago. And in 2020, we will change it even further together.

With a new police superintendent to lead CPD in its next chapter of reform, a first-of-its-kind Office of Public Safety Administration to modernize our public safety departments and a $11.5 million down payment in our violence reduction strategy — a 700% increase in funding compared to last year — we have already started building on this momentum.

There’s hard work ahead of us. But we are on a path to a safer tomorrow, and we will not turn back until all Chicagoans experience and feel the safety they deserve.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.