CHICAGO (AP) — Homicides and shootings were up in Chicago during the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2015, a spike the city's police department blames primarily on gang violence and illegal guns on the city's south and west sides.
The figures were released Friday as a disturbing video made the rounds on social media that may have recorded one of the final shootings of March. Detectives were waiting to speak with a victim to determine if he was videoing himself when he was shot multiple times on Thursday. The victim is hospitalized in critical condition.
Grasping for signs of hope, police officials said that this week's appointment of Interim Superintendent Eddie Johnson by Mayor Rahm Emanuel has built up morale and renewed the department's efforts to combat street violence. But some neighborhood advocates said they are bracing for a particularly violent summer.
HOW MUCH IS VIOLENCE INCREASING?
The Chicago Police Department's figures released Friday show 141 homicides from January through March. That compares to 82 homicides for the first quarter of 2015, a 72 percent increase. In March alone, there were 45 homicides, compared to 34 in March of last year.
The figures show 677 shootings from January through March, compared to 359 for the same period last year, an 88 percent increase. There were 271 shootings in March, compared to 179 shootings in March of last year.
Most of the increased violence is occurring in five districts on the south and west sides of the city, police said.
WHAT ARE POLICE DOING ABOUT IT?
The nation's third-largest city has been roiled by concerns that officers, fearful of attracting negative attention, may be pulling back and becoming more passive following a police shooting video released last fall and the launch of a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights probe of the police force.
But police said Friday that several metrics show an increase in police activity in late March — including an increase of gun arrests by nearly 10 percent and investigative stops are up by 30 percent. Johnson's appointment was good for officer morale, the department said.
While the department "will remain tireless in its efforts to hold criminals accountable for their actions, we all have a part to play in creating a safer Chicago," Johnson said Friday in a statement. "In the coming weeks and months, I plan on meeting with and listening to a range of Chicagoans — from activists and elected officials to ministers and parents — to find ways that we can come together to build mutual trust and lasting partnerships that will make our streets safer for everyone."
HOW DOES CHICAGO COMPARE TO OTHER CITIES?
Compared to last year for the same period, first-quarter homicides and shootings were down in some major cities, such as New York and Houston, and up in others, such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Aaron Chalfin, a researcher with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, said the "year over year changes we're seeing in Chicago are certainly concerning, especially given that last year also saw a large increase in homicides and shootings." But "it is really hard to say at this point what is going on in Chicago right now."
Violent crime doesn't always increase when police change their level of response, he said, but the theory that Chicago police may be restrained by public backlash to police shootings is "entirely plausible."
WHY ARE ANTI-VIOLENCE GROUPS WORRIED?
Summer youth employment programs are threatened by the legislative impasse that has left Illinois without a budget since July, which frightens neighborhood activists.
"We are praying against this but we are bracing for an increase in shootings this summer because so many youth will not be working because of the state budget," said Autry Phillips, executive director of Target Area Development, a nonprofit agency on Chicago's South Side that had to end its CeaseFire program.
Funds for CeaseFire to intervene in feuds on the streets in the city's Englewood neighborhood and about a dozen other sites around the state were suspended a year ago by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner because of the state's budget problems.