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Even As Shootings Fall, Murders Remain High: 335 People Killed In 2017

 In Englewood, where an empty lot has been transformed into a memorial for Chicago gunshot victims, police credit technological crime-fighting upgrades with reducing shootings and murders  this year.
In Englewood, where an empty lot has been transformed into a memorial for Chicago gunshot victims, police credit technological crime-fighting upgrades with reducing shootings and murders this year.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

CHICAGO — Even while shootings have fallen from last year's numbers, murder statistics in the city remain about the same.

From Jan. 1 through Friday night, there had been 1,385 shootings — a 12.1 percent drop from 2016, when the city faced sharp criticism for a spike in shootings. Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson pointed to a focus on technology and intelligence work in several South and West side districts as a cause for the drop.

But the number of people killed in shootings and the number of murders overall are largely flat compared to last year, and they remain significantly higher than in years past, according to a DNAinfo analysis. There were 82 murders in June, compared to 74 in June 2016 and 46 in June 2015.

So far in 2017, 335 people have been killed, with 302 of those victims shot to death.

By this point last year, there had been 329 people slain. In 2015, there had been just 220.

*Total number of murders not immediately available for 2010 and 2011.

"All of us who love this city were saddened and sickened with the level of violence last year, as shootings and murders spiked on the South and West sides," Johnson said in his statement, which also ran as an op-ed in the Sun-Times.

"Over the first six months of 2017 we have implemented a smart policing strategy that is showing early signs of progress. To be sure, technology alone won't solve the problem, and we still have a lot of work left to do."

Experts have struggled to determine the cause of the rise in violence since January 2016.

The University of Chicago's Crime Lab released a report in January, but its research group was unable to point to any one factor behind the uptick in violence. It did find that the Police Department's ability to arrest people for shootings had been "overwhelmed" in 2016. 

The report found that the clearance rate for murder cases fell to 26 percent last year, while the clearance rate for shooting cases fell to 5 percent. Clearance rates record when there has been an arrest in a case or a suspect has died.

Police have pointed to the people behind the shootings, with Johnson saying earlier this year that the violence of 2016 "was driven by emboldened offenders who acted without a fear of penalty from the criminal justice system."

Others, like Maurice McFarlin, a professor at Northeastern Illinois University who studies Chicago's gangs, have said the violence could be related to people not having access to the mental health care they need, the state's budget fiasco leading to social services being cut and some Chicagoans — particularly young black men — struggling with unemployment.

The toxic mixture leads to young black people feeling "worthless." In turn, some commit violence against other young black people, McFarlin said in May 2016.

There has been some success this year, though: In Englewood, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by gun violence, shootings have fallen by 32 percent and murders by 30 percent, said Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

In North Lawndale, a West Side neighborhood that's also faced gun violence, murders are down 18 percent and shootings are down 35 percent, Guglielmi said.

Police have said technological upgrades in the Harrison and Englewood police districts have led to decreases in murders and shootings. The districts created Strategic Decision Support Centers, where crime analysts, intelligence officers and analysts from the University of Chicago use data to help area officers with their work.

The districts received more phones for officers and ShotSpotter technology, which can listen for gunshots on streets so officers can respond quicker. The districts also expanded their pod cameras, which can rotate automatically to record video of a spot where ShotSpotter says shots were fired from.

The Police Department considers those upgrades a "pilot program" that it's viewing with "cautious optimism," Police Department spokesman Frank Giancamilli said earlier this year. The Deering district received the upgrades at the end of May, and the Gresham, Ogden and Austin districts will get the programs this summer.

But Johnson said the Police Department isn't just relying on technology: It's recruiting officers, working with federal law enforcement agencies and working closer with State's Attorney's Office.

And last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed off on a bill that will toughen penalties for people convicted of multiple gun crimes — a measure long pushed by the Police Department, which thinks the move will keep repeat gun offenders off the streets and reduce violence.

"Preventing crime and reducing gun violence isn't about doing any 'one' thing," Johnson said. "It's about everything you do coming together in a smart strategy."

2017 Violence So Far:

• This January Had As Many Shootings, Murders As Violent January 2016

• Shootings, Murders Rise In Chicago In February

• Shootings, Murders See Major Drop For 1st Time In More Than A Year

• Shootings Down To Date, But April Saw Uptick In Murders

• May Sees Chicago Shootings Fall — But 2017 Still More Violent Than Usual