NORTH LAWNDALE — Leaders of CeaseFire Illinois, a group that works to reduce violence, said Thursday they want the country to take notice of a drop in shootings and murders in Chicago so far this year.
In fact, the group's top official is making a bold prediction that 2013 will see a historically low number of murders: less than 300.
If that comes to pass, it would be a huge drop from 2012 when 506 people were murdered.
"We're going to reach the lowest number of homicides in Chicago this year than ever before since the 1960s, and we're claiming that victory today," said Tio Hardiman, the director of CeaseFire Illinois.
Through the end of April, there were 98 murders, down 42 percent from the same period last year; shootings were down 26 percent in the same time period, according to a police department spokesman. There have been an additional 15 murders so far in May.
The group's prediction comes before the summer months, when murders typically spike in Chicago. But Hardiman said that since the spring body count didn't jump dramatically, he thinks the rest of the year will stay low "based on the fact that we did not have a spike during the months of March and April this year."
"I've been watching these numbers for a long time, so I'm definitely making a prediction that homicides will be under 300 this year," he said.
Hardiman said that reduction in violent crime should be reported by the news media just as aggressively as, say, the bloody month of January that saw 42 homicides.
"When we had all the homicides in Chicago in January of this year, CNN came to town. MSNBC came," Hardiman said. "CNN should be here today. MSNBC should be here today. But no violence, no news."
That is something that has to change, CeaseFire officials said. Hardiman said a message like that could help change the mindset of "guys involved in a violent lifestyle."
And Rev. Aurty Phillips, who leads a social justice group called the Target Area Development Corporation, argued that CeaseFire Illinois has proven to be one of the reasons for the drop.
"Are we saying that CeaseFire is doing it all? No we're not, but we're saying we're a major player in reducing shootings in our community," Phillips said.
Last year, the city awarded CeaseFire a grant of $1 million to help mediate conflicts with their "violence interrupters" in two police districts.
Dan Cantillon, CeaseFire's director of research and evaluation, said that grant will run out in August and said the group hopes it will draw more funding so it can keep operating.
In 2012, CeaseFire had to suspend operations during two months of the summer due to a lack of funding.
"Obviously, the police do the lion's share of the work, and a lot of people see us on the back end, but the majority of our work is on the front end," Cantillon said. "There are so many things that don't happen because of mediation of our violence interrupters."
Police credit the reduction in crime to the department's "comprehensive policing strategy" that includes its initiatives aimed at addressing gangs and narcotics, as well as "close partnerships" with community groups like CeaseFire, Chicago Police spokesman Adam Collins said in an email.
"The department continues to work with CeaseFire and district commanders in the two districts to communicate with them regularly while we evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts," Collins said.