DOWNTOWN — The number of people murdered Downtown in 2016 has already surpassed last year's total.
Or any year's total in nearly a decade.
Larry Lawrence was the eighth person murdered Downtown so far this year when he was shot and killed late last month near Clark and Division streets, crime statistics show. If the year ended then, the Downtown homicide total would have already matched or surpassed the sum of any year since eight people were killed here in all of 2008 — and leaves the area on pace to reach or top the 13 homicides reported here in all of 2006.
David Matthews talks about the troubling statistics on Downtown crime in 2016.
Last year, three homicides were reported Downtown, an area including the Gold Coast, Streeterville, River North, Loop, South Loop and River West.
The death of Marques Gaines — a bartender who was hit by a cab after getting knocked unconscious and left to die in a River North street — was ruled a homicide in April. Pamela Johnson, another homicide victim, was killed by a truck in May after a group of men chased her into traffic on Lake Shore Drive. Ronald Thomas was stabbed to death in March during a domestic dispute in the South Loop.
Downtown shootings and robberies are also up. The 14 shootings so far this year already surpassed the 11 reported here all of last year, and robberies in the police department's Central and Near North districts — an area that also includes parts of Lincoln Park and Old Town — are up 40 percent over last year, police data shows.
"We've all been threatened in our neighborhood," said Carrie Nahabedian, the James Beard award-winning owner/chef of River North restaurants Naha and Brindille.
Now, Nahabedian said, she doesn't let any of her employees leave work alone.
The Downtown trend reflects one throughout Chicago, where murders across the city are on pace for their highest level in a decade, a DNAinfo analysis of police data shows. In a statement, the police department said the rise in Downtown crime reflects more of an increase in isolated, mostly domestic disputes instead of gang activity reaching the city's core.
But the department will still deploy more foot and bike patrols Downtown in an attempt to curb violent crime.
"Any level of violence, anywhere in the city, is unacceptable and the Chicago Police Department is actively working to prevent crime from occurring," Frank Giancamilli, a police spokesman, said in a statement. "The CPD will not rest as we continue to do everything possible to ensure the safety of every Chicagoan across the city and hold gun offenders accountable for their actions."
Lawrence's death led Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes the site of the Gold Coast murder, to spend $27,000 out of his ward infrastructure budget to install a new camera at LaSalle and Division streets. Hopkins also asked the CTA to install more cameras at the entrances of the Red Line stop there, and is negotiating with nearby buildings to add more cameras too in an attempt to deter crime.
"We do know a lot of drug activity in that neighborhood, both the buyers and sellers are using the Red Line to get to the neighborhood," Hopkins said.
A camera installed last year at Clark and Division captured Lawrence's killer extending his arm to fire the fatal shots, but he still remains at large. And adding surveillance near the Chicago Red Line station led to a drop in "criminal activity" there, Hopkins said.
"We'd like to duplicate that at Clark and Division," he said. A CTA spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment.
Despite the rise of crime nearby, Nahabedian said she doesn't see any patrols out late at night near her restaurants. And that's worrisome in a place where crowds of people go out and servers leave work with lots of cash.
"We're seeing crime in the alleys, crime in the street," Nahabedian said. "All of us had to change the way we do business just to accommodate the fact there aren't any police in the neighborhood."
Here are the murders reported Downtown so far in 2016:
• Armonte Hooper, 23, shot and killed Courtney Taylor, 23, during a birthday party in January at the McCormick Place Hyatt, 2233 S. King Drive, after being told Taylor was hitting on his girlfriend, authorities said.
• Reggie Daniel, 48, shot and killed neighbor Darrin Joss, 45, in the gym of their River West high-rise in March after Daniel believed Joss to be flirting with his girlfriend, authorities said.
• Ronald Thomas, 27, was stabbed in his chest by a 29-year-old woman in March in the South Loop, authorities said.
• A 21-year-old man was shot and killed while driving on Lake Shore Drive last month.
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