As Chicago officials laud a significant drop in homicides for the third straight year, other US cities enter 2020 combating rising murder rates.
The Windy City has been singled out for gun violence — President Donald Trump is a frequent critic — since reporting 762 murders in 2016 — the deadliest year in nearly two decades.
Still, the nation’s third-most populous city recorded 492 murders in 2019, according to Chicago police — about 13% lower than 2018’s total of 564.
“To be brutally honest, it’s still not safe enough,” said interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“Five hundred homicides — even though that’s a nice milestone, it’s way too many for a city this size. Way too many.”
Chicago has made steady progress during a national trend of declining murder and violent crime rates, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Major cities have employed strategies ranging from collecting data to identify crime patterns to targeting repeat violent offenders to investing in social services and schools.
New Orleans, for instance, also saw its murder rate drop for a third straight year in 2019, with 119 murders compared to 146 the previous year, according to the NOPD.
Philadelphia, St. Louis and Baltimore struggle with high murder rates
Philadelphia ended 2019 with 356 homicides, including three people killed in separate New Year’s Eve shootings, CNN affiliate WPVI reported. That’s the highest count in the city in more than a decade, when 391 people were killed in 2007, the station reported. There were 353 homicides in 2018.
St. Louis ended the year with 194 murders, compared to 186 in 2018. The city of about 318,000 people had highest murder rate in the nation in 2017, when it reported 205 murders.
Baltimore closed 2019 with 348 homicides, according to the police department — an increase of more than 12% from the previous year. It’s home to about 619,000 people. Cities like New York and Los Angeles, with five times the population, did not report as many homicides.
Baltimore’s homicide total is the highest per capita in recent years, according to Lester Davis, spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Jack Young.
It’s the fifth straight year the number of homicides have exceeded 300, according to the Baltimore Sun’s homicide database. The tally is just shy of the highest number of homicides ever recorded in the city in one year: 353, in 1993.
“We can talk all day about what to do after someone is killed but we must also have a hard conversation about why the perpetrators of violence have no regards for human life,” Young said.
Baltimore is one of seven cities that are part of the US Justice Department’s Operation Relentless Pursuit, an initiative to combat violent crime with increased federal resources.
The other cities are Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee — which the Justice Department said have violent crime rates several times the national average.
“We need the help of people from many professions and many different walks of life all working together for a common cause,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said.
Among 24 cities with a similar population to Baltimore, only two saw higher violent crimes rates in 2018: Detroit and Memphis, according to the Brennan Center for Justice analysis.
The spike in homicides was particularly alarming.
“This increase could offset the progress the city made last year, when the city’s homicide total dropped by roughly 10 percent, from 342 to 309,” according Ames Grawert and Cameron Kimble of the Brennan Center for Justice in their 2019 crime data report published last month. “This will do little for the city’s reputation for violence.”
The authors added, “Perhaps even more so than other cities, there is no single explanation for Baltimore’s recent experience with crime. Corruption, poverty, and an almost complete breakdown in community-police relations all offer some explanation. Similarly, no single solution will bring justice or safety to its residents.”
Father who lost son says violence hasn’t dropped far enough
In Chicago, city leaders hope efforts undertaken since 2016 — hiring more police officers and emphasizing community policing — continue to lessen violent crime.
They also credit what they call data-driven policing. The department in recent years has created support centers where supervisors use information from many sources and technologies — including security cameras and gunshot detection systems — to learn where crimes are happening and where they are likely to occur.
In addition to a roughly 35% drop in murders from 2016, shootings also are down. The police department’s preliminary tally of shootings for the year — 2,139 — is about 9.6% lower than 2018’s count of 2,367.
“I know it seems difficult when you’re in the middle of this but I have nothing but the most positive belief in the outcome of what we’re doing here,” said Chicago’s Beck, who replaced Eddie Johnson, as interim superintendent in November.
The preliminary crime numbers suggest Chicago had close to the number of murders in 2019 as it did in 2015, when the tally was 478.
Still, even at the 2014 level of 415 homicides, the Brennan Center for Justice analysis said, that would still be three times higher than the national rate.
“Even as crime drops in the city, that level of violence demands attention from policymakers,” the analysis said.
Keith Flowers, 52, who lost his son to a shooting in Chicago in August, told CNN that the violence hasn’t dropped far enough.
He expressed gratitude for the anti-violence efforts, but echoed the sentiments of the city police superintendent: “You can’t let your kids out to play because you don’t know when a drive-by or a shooting is going to take place. So no, we don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe.”