Fewer Murdered in 2013, But for Top Cop and Families, There's More to Do
CHICAGO — For Garry McCarthy, an important role of policing is building public confidence.
While decreasing crime rates across the city plays a big role in that, he knows that each crime happens in a neighborhood or to a victim that people know.
"If there's three shootings in a neighborhood, instead of five, that isn't necessarily going to make people feel better," McCarthy said to DNAinfo Chicago.
McCarthy said Chicago's 2013 crime numbers, in some cases a vast improvement over the year before, show that the department has headed toward "progress, not victory" in achieving that public confidence.
After 506 people were murdered in Chicago in 2012, 2013 showed improvement in several areas according to data provided by the Chicago Police Department:
• Through Dec. 31, the department counted 415 murders in 2013, down 18 percent from the 505 murdered through the same period the previous year. DNAinfo's end-of-the-year count is 421, which includes incidents the police department doesn't count, such as homicides on expressways. (Those are investigated by state police.)
• In 2013, there were 1,855 shooting incidents in which at least one person was shot, down 24 percent from the year before. In all, 2,316 people were shot in 2013, also down 24 percent from the year before.
McCarthy said if any crime rate figures matter, it's this one.
"We're focused on reducing the shootings, which will reduce the murder rate," McCarthy said.
• Overall, crime was down 16 percent in 2013 compared to the year before, according to city data. About 12,000 fewer crime incidents were reported this year compared to last.
HOW DID THE DROP IN CRIME HAPPEN?
Looking at crime rates year over year takes out context and dismisses the progress the city has made, McCarthy said.
"When I walked through the door here in May 2011 we had one of the worst gang violence situations in the country," McCarthy said.
His gang violence reduction strategy — which focuses attention on repeat violent offenders, calls for more social and community programs and increases police "beat" assignments within neighborhoods — went into effect about eight months after he took over as the city's top cop and began showing an impact in mid-2012.
"People are looking to encapsulate two or three things that have worked for us this year. It's not that easy," McCarthy said. "Crime reduction is not just police work. We're not in charge of the issues that create crime like poverty and breakdowns of family units."
Outside of the police department, the city’s family and support services department has focused on serving children at risk of being involved in violent activity, which the police department said has helped keep some violence in check.
For example, 1,000 males ages 14 to 21 who have been through the criminal justice system participated in the city’s One Summer PLUS jobs program, according to Evelyn Diaz, the department’s commissioner.
During the program, the participants were half as likely to commit a crime, Diaz said.
“We know that it keeps kids out of trouble during the program but waiting to see if the effects have staying power,” said Diaz, adding her department has the budget to reach 4,500 at-risk youths through similar programs in 2014.
For some families of murder victims, changing what's in the mind of possible killers is an important step to curbing violence.
"When something like this happens you hope it has a big enough impact to make some change," said Ebony Ambrose, the mother of 19-year-old Kevin Ambrose, who was killed on his way to escort a friend from the 47th Street Green Line station in May. "Not necessarily some change from just politicians, but you want mental change from the people who commit the crimes.
THE VICTIMS DO MATTER
A regular refrain in McCarthy's public comments is how "one victim of violence is one too many."
"I'm sympathetic to the families affected by this," McCarthy said.
Ashley Hardmon, 19, was gunned down in July, just a five-minute walk away from her home, when two gunmen fired into a group of friends that she was with, police said.
In December, the family traveled to Washington, D.C., to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, mother Tiffany Hardmon said.
Hardmon's brother spoke out against gun violence at the National Cathedral and Tiffany Hardmon met with multiple congressional officials advocating for universal background checks for prospective gun owners.
But while she pushes for legislative changes in gun laws, similar to what McCarthy has called for time and time again, Hardmon said back at home she is frustrated by a case that stalled despite having so many possible witnesses.
"It's been really rough. It's pretty much faded away," Hardmon said. "It's pretty much a cold case to me. The city of Chicago has let me down."
Asked about Hardmon's hopelessness regarding her daughter's case, McCarthy acknowledged it could be tough for families to not know what led to their loved one's death.
"It's very difficult to solve murders. It's not like how you see on TV," McCarthy said. "It's an important thing to do."
"Homicide has more than one victim and sometimes it is more difficult for the people left behind to have to deal with it," McCarthy added.