Chicago-area expressway shootings down sharply this year

As of Tuesday, there have been 82 shootings on Cook County expressways, putting the city on pace to have fewer than last year. But the number of shootings is still higher than before the pandemic.

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La Policía Estatal de Illinois camina en formación en la autopista I-94 de entrada, cerca de la calle 79, en busca de pruebas de un tiroteo en 2018. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Archivos Sun-Times

Illinois State Police look for evidence after a shooting in 2018 on the inbound Dan Ryan Expressway near 79th Street.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Shootings on Chicago-area expressways are down sharply this year as overall gun violence declines citywide.

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As of Tuesday, there have been 82 shootings on Cook County expressways. That’s down 25% from the 110 highway shootings over the same period last year, according to data from the Illinois State Police.

Last year’s total of 150 expressway shootings was a considerable drop from 2021, when 273 occurred on Cook County highways, according to state police data.

But expressway shootings in Chicago are still high compared with pre-pandemic levels. Fifty-one expressway shootings were reported in 2019, state police figures show.

After a dramatic spike in 2021, state police committed more resources to address expressway shootings, including putting more officers on roads and expanding the use of automated license plate readers.

Loyola University criminal justice and psychology professor Arthur Lurigio, who tracks shootings on Chicago expressways, said the drop in shootings was significant, but he cautioned that it is tough to assess year-to-year changes in crime trends.

He noted that many of the incidents occurred near neighborhoods that experience higher levels of crime.

“They’re occurring on stretches of the interstates and expressways that are parallel to the neighborhoods with the highest number of shootings,” Lurigio said.

The shootings are often a continuation of conflicts that happen on surface streets and neighborhoods, and people are pursued as they try to get away on the highway, he said.

To a shooter, the “benefit” of being on an expressway is that you can get on and get off, Lurigio said.

“If I’m chasing someone and I shoot them on the expressway, within seconds I can get off. It’s also easier to elude the police,” he said. “You’re also traveling at a faster speed, and people are usually focused straight ahead and can’t see the person who shot at them.”

State Police Director Brendan Kelly attributed the drop, in part, to his agency dedicating more resources to preventing expressway shootings, including increasing patrols and effectively using technology such as drones and automated license plate readers.

“We’re not shy about letting people know that we’re out there,” Kelly said. “This is not a secret. We want the public, as well as anybody who’s potentially thinking about being involved in criminal activity, to know that the Illinois State Police are out there, that we are using these tools.”

Lurigio agreed with Kelly that shootings have probably decreased thanks to more officers on the roadways and the use of license plate readers.

However, he also pointed out that because overall shootings have been declining in the city, the areas where expressways intersect with high-violence areas are experiencing the same decreases.

“They’re not doing them so much in the neighborhoods, and then that means the shootings are not spilling over as much on the parallel expressway,” Lurigio said.

Of the shootings this year, 21 resulted in injuries, and five were fatal. Last year, 45 incidents involved injuries, and two were fatal shootings, Illinois State Police reports.

In 2022, homicides and shootings decreased overall in Chicago. Last year, 692 people were killed, down from 794 in 2021 and 778 in 2020. There were 502 homicides in 2019.

Kelly said that although overall shootings are down, the frequency of road rage shootings has increased.

Nationwide, road rage shootings are increasing while overall gun violence is declining. Deaths and injuries from road rage shootings more than doubled from 2018 to 2022, a study from Everytown for Gun Safety found.

“We have progress that still needs to be made, especially dealing with a lot more road rage recently, which is more of a behavioral concern from the public that we want to raise awareness about and encourage people to make better decisions on the interstate while they’re traveling,” Kelly said.

Kelly said state police have room for improvement in preventing shootings on the expressways, especially violent road rage incidents.

“We still have much work to do. There’s still crime we need to fight and prevent and deter,” Kelly said. “But we have increased the chances that there will be a consequence for that type of criminal activity. The expressway and the interstate is not a place you want to be if you’re committing crime.”

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