By Jeremy Gorner
9:31 PM CST, January 1, 2014
Homicides dropped 18 percent in Chicago last year and crime overall was down 16 percent, according to statistics released by the police department this morning.
The decline in homicides was a more modest 5 percent when compared with 2011. The department reported 435 homicides in 2011, 503 in 2012 and 415 in 2013.
Shootings across the city dropped by 24 percent from 2012 and 16 percent from 2011, according to the department's numbers. Sexual assaults were down 6 percent from last year, robberies down 12 percent, serious battery down 16 percent, burglaries down 22 percent, motor vehicle thefts down 23 percent, thefts down 3 percent.
The reductions came at a price: Nearly $100 million in overtime pay, triple what was budgeted for 2013.
In addition to the hefty overtime pay, police officials credit several strategies including greater accountability from commanders and more aggressive attempts to prevent retaliatory shootings. The harsher winter weather, compared with unseasonably warm conditions a year earlier, also likely played a role.
Homicides peaked in Chicago at more than 900 a year in the early to mid-1990s. Violence has since been on a steady decline, a trend also seen across the country.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has acknowledged that violence remains stubbornly high in Chicago. Despite being the nation's third most populous city, Chicago recorded far more homicides than New York, Los Angeles and every other city in America.
After taking a public relations beating in 2012, when homicides topped 500 for the first time since 2008, McCarthy moved 200 officers off desk duty in February to bolster roving “saturation teams” aimed at suppressing outbreaks of violence in the most dangerous parts of the city.
McCarthy had disbanded two citywide strike forces in 2012, assigning them to beat patrol, and critics blamed that move for the spike in violence.
Also this year, the superintendent doubled the number of veteran officers working overtime on their days off to 400, a figure that stayed constant until the summer months, typically the most violent of the year. Beginning in the summer, the department winnowed down overtime officers and replaced them with rookie cops working straight time on foot patrol.
An extra 400 cops were assigned to 20 “impact zones” in the most dangerous neighborhoods on the South and West sides. As 2013 progressed, additional rookie cops, fresh out of the academy with just months of field training, augmented the overtime cops by walking beats in the same zones. That strategy allowed other officers working their regular shifts to concentrate on other parts of those neighborhoods that needed attention, police sources have said.
By the end of November, overtime costs totaled about $96 million, triple the $32 million budgeted for 2013 by the city. The city spent $53 million on police overtime in 2012.
McCarthy has said he doesn't expect overtime to eat up as much of the budget in 2014 as more rookies graduate to the street and are assigned to foot patrols in the impact zones. Still, the City Council is setting aside slightly more than $70 million next year for police overtime.
The number of homicides released by the department this morning do not include three killings on city expressways patrolled by state police, or “death investigations” that could later be reclassified as homicides. The official number also doesn’t include those killed in police-involved shootings or other homicides the department deemed “justified.”
And in order to meet state and federal guidelines, Chicago police in 2013 implemented a policy of tabulating homicides in the years the victims were injured instead of the years when they died.
During a recent review of homicide victims who died from injuries in previous years, at least seven killings in 2012 and at least four in 2013 were counted in the years the incident occurred. The year 2011 was not included in the review.
A series of high-profile homicides in 2013 made it hard for McCarthy to convince the public that progress was being made. The January slaying of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, about a mile from President Barack Obama’s Kenwood home, once again made the city’s violence a top story on national news outlets.
Then came the fatal shooting of 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins in March. It happened in one of the least violent months the city had seen in years, but such a young victim again earned Chicago more notoriety.
In September, Chicago violence was in the spotlight once more when 13 people were shot, including a 3-year-old boy, at Cornell Square Park in Back of the Yards.
During a news conference on Monday at a South Loop police station, McCarthy said the 2013 numbers are encouraging.
“We’ve been stuck at the same murder rate for the past 10 years, and this year, 2013, obviously represents progress,” McCarthy said at the Central District police station. “Now we have to build on that progress and keep it moving forward."
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