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City’s rising murder rate beginning to drop, top cop says

Shooting involved crime scene 8200 block south Cottage Grove. Friday July 29 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Shooting involved crime scene in 8200 block of south Cottage Grove. Friday, July 29, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 3, 2012 1:25PM

Last month was one of the least deadly Julys in decades.

Chicago’s murder total for July was the third-lowest since 1987 — a major turnabout from the first three months of the year when homicides skyrocketed, police officials said Wednesday.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said his strategies are beginning to drive down shootings and slayings.

Murders were up 66 percent, and shootings were up 40 percent over the first three months of 2012 — compared to the same period last year.

For the first seven months of 2012, though, murder was up 27 percent and shootings were up 6 percent, McCarthy said.

“A 6 percent increase is nothing to brag about, but it looks like incremental success — and the murder rate is following,” he said.

Forty-nine people were murdered in July, compared with 55 people in July 2011, according to the department.

McCarthy attributed the decline in murders in July to a comprehensive gang violence reduction strategy he launched this year.

“It’s taking hold,” he said.

McCarthy’s strategy focuses on officers fighting gangs within their districts. “Gang audits” gather information on gangs and funnel the intelligence to beat cops and tactical officers to stop retaliatory shootings.

The department is also working to shut down drug corners and enlist city agencies and community support to clean up those blocks and keep drug dealers from returning, McCarthy said.

But McCarthy disbanded specialized units that were sent to crime hot spots across the city to combat gang violence — a centerpiece of the department’s strategy under previous superintendents.

Some experts say the unusually warm weather early this year contributed to the early spike in killings. More people were drawn outside, raising the chances of conflicts and shootings, they say.

Police officials, meanwhile, say the ongoing splintering of Chicago’s street gangs is responsible for a large share of murders in 2012.

As gang leaders have been sent to prison in federal conspiracy cases, their gangs have fractured into small factions competing against each other for drug sales — fueling violence, police say.

Whatever the cause, some aldermen have been calling for a return to the roving citywide units that McCarthy disbanded: the Tactical Response Unit formed by former police Supt. Phil Cline and the Mobile Strike Force created by former police Supt. Jody Weis.

“I’m glad there’s a slight trend down [in murder]. I’m hoping we can continue down that road. But one month does not change my opinion about the need for specialized units,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee.

“Saturation units go in, calm a community down and prevent” retaliation, Beale said.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) agreed: “Specialized units in places where [gang] conflicts are make a difference. We need to bring those back.”

But Ald. James Balcer (11th), the chairman of the Police Committee, said the superintendent’s strategy deserves time to succeed.

“As long as the numbers are heading in the right direction, you have to give it a chance,” Balcer said. “I was out with [McCarthy] about two weeks ago. I was impressed with what I saw.”

McCarthy said he “will absolutely stay the course” with his strategy.

He noted that overall crime was down about 10 percent through the end of July.

He also pointed out that Chicago’s murder problem was twice as bad in the early 1990s, although he said he’s not satisfied with the homicide rate — which is about three times that of New York.

“It’s being presented the city is not safe,” McCarthy said. “That’s clearly not the case. Gang members have a much higher risk of being involved in violent episodes than anyone else. But if you’re John Q. Citizen, you don’t need to worry. You are safe.”

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