CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago experienced more than twice as many homicides in November as it did during the same month in 2015, and more than any November in nearly a quarter century, according to police statistics released Thursday.
The 77 homicides recorded last month bring the city's 2016 total to 701, with a month to go until year's end. It is the first time Chicago has eclipsed the 700 mark in a year since 1998, and puts the city on a pace to end 2016 with nearly 300 more homicides than were recorded last year.
Police, law enforcement officials and community members say the reasons start with criminals in Chicago that are more emboldened than they have been in years.
A big reason, they say, is that Chicago in recent years has seen their once tough gun laws weakened or eliminated by court decisions. As he has been saying for months, Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Thursday that the state's weak gun laws mean people convicted of gun crimes are locked up for far less time than they are in places like New York, where crime has dropped.
"The mentality here is there is no consequence for carrying a gun," Johnson said. "Gun offenders just don't fear the judicial system."
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, the Chicago Democrat whose teenage grandson was shot and killed last week, agreed. And he said as the violence has escalated, so too has the willingness of people to arm themselves for protection - especially since they understand that the gun laws mean that if they are caught, the consequences won't be as severe as the consequences of the criminals on the streets.
"You hear it all over, in the barbershops and everywhere, people taking the position they'd rather be caught by the law with a gun than be confronted (by a criminal) without one," Davis said Thursday.
Another factor for the rise, Johnson and others say, is the release last November of a video of a white officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald. Gang members and other criminals, they say, have been emboldened because they view a drop in the number of arrests in the last year as evidence that officers are reluctant to do their job.
"Some gang members apparently felt they could get away with more, and so more bullets started flying," U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said in a speech in September.
Police have said much of the drop can be attributed to a concerted effort not to make arrests in minor drug cases. Johnson dismissed suggestions that the falling arrest numbers mean officers are not being aggressive, pointing instead to statistics that show the number of illegal guns his officers have seized this year has climbed 20 percent from last year and the number of gun arrests have climbed 8 percent so far this year.
But he agreed that the video and the subsequent media coverage affected criminals. "Don't think for a moment they are not seeing all of that and taking advantage of it," he said.
The statistics come as the city and police department scramble to bring the number of shootings and killings down with a host of initiatives in Chicago's most violent communities.
Earlier this month, police announced that "several hundred" officers had flooded three high-crime areas, stepping up efforts to serve arrest warrants, conduct parole checks and make traffic stops. The police department also plans to hire an additional 970 officers over the next two years.
But Johnson said until the state toughens its gun laws, particularly laws that will mean longer prison sentences for repeat gun offenders, the violence will continue.