Chicago cut its homicide rate by 29 percent during the first half of this year, thanks in part to a crime prevention strategy that paid 400 officers overtime to quell violence in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Following a year in which homicides topped 500 for only the second time in a decade, Chicago reported its lowest first six-month total since 1965 -- 180 through June 30, according to police data. That’s 76 fewer than the same period in 2012.
A question hanging over the latest homicide figures is the city’s financial ability to maintain the beefed-up street force as temperatures rise and costs mount.
“It’s very sustainable,” police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in an interview yesterday at department headquarters on the South Side. “The mayor has made it quite clear that he will find the money to support the budget to make this happen.”
McCarthy, who was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lead the department in 2011, said the price of reducing violence has to be set against the personal loss of a loved one.
“What’s the cost of gun violence to a family?” he asked. “Tell me if they wouldn’t pay $5 million, if they had it, to save somebody’s life?”
While the nation’s third-largest city by population endured a record wet first half of the year, according to the National Weather Service, progress in reducing the homicide numbers began to slow in May.
In recent weeks, the number of killings more closely resembled that of the previous year, according to police records. There were 44 homicides in June, compared with 48 during the same month last year and 45 in June 2011.
McCarthy dismissed the impact of weather, saying it doesn’t cause or prevent violent crime. He pointed to a drop in shootings -- 25 percent this year and 13 percent in June -- as a more significant gauge of progress in curbing violent crime.
The drop in homicides is well worth the money the city of 2.7 million people is paying, McCarthy said.
“If we’re down about 80 murders so far this year, I think we’ve saved about $400 million,” he said, citing a Rand Corp. study that pegged the cost of a homicide at $5 million, including medical care, lost wages and other economic effects. “And what are we spending on overtime -- $30 million?”
After the murder rate soared during the first three months of 2012, Emanuel moved to bolster the police presence in violence-prone neighborhoods on the South and West sides. Though the strategy resulted in fewer killings during the latter half of last year, the city still recorded 506 murders.
In February, McCarthy identified 20 “impact zones” in the wake of the shooting death of a 15-year-old girl who lived less than a mile from President Barack Obama’s South Side home and had performed at his inauguration. In deploying more officers, the city burned up almost two-thirds of the year’s overtime budget in just three months.
The homicide rate is a sensitive political issue here, especially as New York City and Los Angeles, both with more people, have reported sharp declines as well as smaller totals than Chicago’s. The two major newspapers in the city pay close attention to killings. The Sun-Times publishes “Homicide Watch Chicago: Mark Every Death, Remember Every Victim, Follow Every Case.”
Emanuel, the former chief of staff in Obama’s White House, touts progress in reducing homicides and the 14 percent drop in all crime this year.
“Look, the fact is our homicides are down significantly,” Emanuel said in a brief interview.
New York, where McCarthy once served as deputy commissioner of police operations, recorded 147 homicides in 2013 through June 23, down from 197 in the same period of last year and 30 fewer for the period than in Chicago, whose population is roughly one-third the size.
Chicago’s battle with homicides comes as Illinois grapples with a Dec. 11 federal court order to let residents carry concealed weapons. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn yesterday used his amendatory veto powers to limit the scope of a gun bill approved by the legislature in May.
Among Quinn’s changes, which lawmakers will try to overturn next week, are limits on the ammunition capacity of gun magazines, a ban on carrying firearms into bars or restaurants that serve alcohol, and language preserving the right of local governments to enact their own weapons restrictions. Last week Emanuel proposed stiffer rules on so-called assault weapons.