DOWNTOWN — This March saw a major drop in Chicago's violent crime for the first time since a surge of violence overtook the city in 2016.
There were 167 shootings that killed 32 people and wounded 174 this March, according to a DNAinfo analysis. It's a sharp contrast from what the city faced this month last year: 273 shootings with 45 people dead and 280 wounded.
This month also saw fewer shootings — though slightly more people killed or wounded — than March 2015.
The drop is “not a call for celebration,” said Anthony Guglielmi, head spokesman for Chicago Police. “If anything, this is a call for further action, further investment into this model and strategy.
“While we may have lower numbers, we’re never going to be happy until there are no shootings and no murders.”
The drop in violence and strategic policing changes are helping with officer morale, Guglielmi said.
Morale suffered after the department faced national scrutiny with the 2015 release of a video showing the killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old shot 16 times by a Chicago Police officer. Some, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Supt. Garry McCarthy, blamed 2016's rise in violence on the morale issues.
But walking through the halls of Chicago Police headquarters, Guglielmi said he has people stopping him and to say how "refreshing" it is to read stories about crime reduction.
“Making the city safer, it benefits everybody,” including community members and police, Guglielmi said. The good police do can get "overshadowed," he said, but now people are reminded that officers are "trying to make Chicago safer."
The drop in violence itself can largely be credited to changes in the Englewood and Harrison police districts, Guglielmi said.
Those districts, which include South and West side neighborhoods hit hard by gun violence, had state's attorneys from Kim Foxx's office start coming in to work "every day with officers," Guglielmi said.
Some officers have received specialized cellphones so they can respond "more easily" to incidents, Guglielmi said, and officers have told him they appreciate increased manpower from a newly graduated class of officers.
“That sends a very strong message to the rank and file that your efforts are supported … and we’re going to get you more resources to help,” Guglielmi said.
The districts have also been using technology that can help officers respond to shootings more quickly, and plan how to prevent retaliatory violence. That same technology should be in the Deering, Ogden, Gresham and Austin districts by late summer, Guglielmi said.
The department is also working on long-term solutions: Supt. Eddie Johnson is pushing for "stronger partnerships" with state and federal agencies, Guglielmi said. Leaders like Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have recently spoken with President Donald Trump — a frequent critic of Chicago's violence — and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, looking for resources to combat the city's violence.
“While we haven’t seen anything yet, we’re very optimistic … that there are people who want to help Chicago,” Guglielmi said.
Johnson is asking for prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office to build a team that will focus on prosecuting those who sell and possess guns illegally, Guglielmi said, something that could prove a "tremendous help."
The department is also asking for an improved ballistics lab to process gun cases and the implementation of "Project Exile," a prosecution model that started in Virginia. Project Exile allows illegal gun possession cases to be moved to federal court, and those convicted face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.
“That would certainly be a game-charger in how we can go after violent crime,” Guglielmi said.
Here's a look at some of the violence from this March:
• On March 16, a 3-year-old boy was accidentally shot in his head while playing "cops and robbers."
• On March 6, 26-year-old Darius Ellis was killed after being forced to drink bleach, officials said.
• On March 2, 4-month-old Janylah Thomas died. The girl died from complications due to her mother being assaulted while pregnant, officials said.
2017 Violence So Far: