More homicides this January than last, but crime down overall

SHARE More homicides this January than last, but crime down overall

Police tape at an armored car robbery, where an armed security guard shot and killed one of two suspects who were trying to rob the truck outside of the Family Dollar store at 3401 w Chicago. Friday, January 28, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Ten days after Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a point to highlight Chicago went 24 hours without a homicide, he confronted a more sobering statistic on Monday: the murder rate is up 53.8 percent from the same period a year ago.

Through mid-day Monday, Chicago had recorded 40 January homicides, compared to just 26 murders during the same period a year ago. The number of shooting incidents remained constant at 140 during both periods.

The January murder spike could have been worse if not for the fact there have been no homicides over the last five days. Police stressed that all other crime has dipped so far this year.

“Nobody can be happy with the level of shootings. I’m not happy with any of it. … These gang bangers have to know these are not their streets. These are the streets of our children and our families and our businesses and good law-abiding citizens. And I want to see greater enforcement that brings a level that [gangs] understand,” the mayor said Monday.

“Chicago has a problem unlike any other major city given the size of our gangs. And that is something that [Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and First Deputy Al Wysinger] are working on every day. But, we are making progress.”

Emanuel acknowledged that “more work needs to be done on gun control” and that “different strategies” need to be put in place to stop gang-related violence.

But, he gave McCarthy a vote of confidence.

“Fighting crime is about putting more police on the street and getting kids, guns and drugs off the street. It’s not about one thing. Do I think we have the right strategy and the right leadership in the Police Department? Yes. And the right amount of [officers]? Yes,” the mayor said.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields acknowledged that “a lot of” the January murder spike is tied to Chicago’s unseasonably mild winter weather.

But, he also argued that a mayor who was quick to take a bow for “one day of good” has to “take the blame for an entire month of bad.”

“We shouldn’t be focusing so much on homicide numbers. We should be focusing on the total amount of crimes. And we have to look at the whole city – not just two neighborhoods: Lawndale and Englewood,” Shields said.

“They’re allocating a good portion of the resources to just a few neighborhoods, leaving the rest of the citizens with very little police protection. Sooner or later, the bad guys are going to come to where the police are not. Chicago has to hire more police officers. The answer is not denying we have a manpower problem like the superintendent has been doing since he took his position.”

McCarthy argued that Chicago’s overall crime rate is down 20 percent over the same period a year ago and that “every single [other] category of crime” is down.

He further noted increases in a host of “enforcement actions” by rank-and-file police officers: contact cards filed by police making stops (up 43 percent); administrative notices of violations (up 48 percent); gang dispersals (up 18 percent) and curfew violations (up 25 percent).

“If the enforcement numbers were in the trash, it would be obvious we weren’t out there doing our jobs. But, you can see the cops and bosses are doing what they’re supposed to be doing because all of the enforcement numbers are in the right direction,” McCarthy said.

“If all the other numbers weren’t going in that direction, I’d be more concerned [by the spike in homicides]. But, enforcement numbers and the overall crime rate are all going in the right direction. The murder rate will follow.”

Last week, McCarthy kicked the commander of Chicago’s crime-ridden Englewood police district upstairs – and replaced him with respected gang enforcement commander Leo Schmitz – as part of a larger plan to stop the bleeding by targeting gangs and drug markets in the two most violent districts.

Together, the Englewood and Harrison districts accounted for 25 percent of the murders and shootings last year and one-third of those incidents during the first two weeks of January.

The command change is part of a larger plan to saturate the Englewood and Harrison Districts with resources, put the gangs and drug markets out of business, round up the fugitives and make the clean-up permanent with help from a “network of community, faith-based and government resources.”

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to solve a severe manpower shortage by adding 1,000 officers not now on the street, 250 of them newly hired with funds generated by tax-increment financing districts.

But, 500 of the officers he has returned to beat patrol have been reshuffled from the same deck of cards. They come from specialized units now disbanded.

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