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CHICAGO (AP) — One of the most violent years in Chicago history ended Sunday with a sobering tally: 762 homicides, the most in two decades in the city and more than New York and Los Angeles combined.
The nation’s third largest city also saw 1,100 more shooting incidents than it did in 2015, according to statistics released by the Chicago Police Department. The numbers underline a story of bloodshed that has put Chicago at the center of a national dialogue about gun violence.
The data released Sunday are staggering, even for those who followed the steady news accounts of weekends ending with dozens of shootings and monthly death tolls that hadn’t been seen in years. The increase in homicides compared to 2015, when 485 were reported, is the largest spike in 60 years.
Police and city officials have lamented the flood of illegal guns into the city, and the crime statistics appeared to support their claims: Police recovered 8,300 illegal guns in 2016, a 20 percent increase from the previous year.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a news conference Sunday that Chicago was among many U.S. cities that have seek a spike in violence, including in attacks on police. He said anger at police has left criminals “emboldened” to violent crimes.
He also said it’s becoming clearer to criminals that they have little to fear from the criminal justice system.
“In Chicago, we just don’t have a deterrent to pick up a gun,” he said. “Any time a guy stealing a loaf of bread spends more time pre-trial in jail than a gun offender, something is wrong.”
The bulk of the deaths and shooting incidents, which jumped from 2,426 in 2015 to 3,550 last year, occurred in only five neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides, all poor and predominantly black areas where gangs are most active.
Police said the shootings in those areas generally wasn’t random, with more than 80 percent of the victims having previously been identified by police as more susceptible because of their gang ties or past arrests.
The city has scrambled to address the violence. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last year that 1,000 officers would be added to the police department. At the same time, police officials have been trying to figure out why homicides and shootings — which began climbing the year before — suddenly surged.
Johnson has said several factors contributed to the increased violence. He noted 2016 was the first full year since the city was forced in November 2015 to release video of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was black and shot 16 times by a white police officer. The video cost former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy his job, sparked major protests around the city, and led to federal and state investigations of the department.
It also left Johnson with the task of trying to restore public trust in what appeared to be a weakened police force, a perception that was only buttressed by a dramatic drop in the number of arrests in 2016.
While the police department has cited several factors for the declining numbers, including a concerted effort not to make minor drug arrests and focus on gun violence, Johnson acknowledged in a recent interview with The Associated Press that officers have become more cautious — in part out of fear of becoming the next “viral video.”
That, he said, has “emboldened” criminals.
“Criminals watch TV, pay attention to the media,” he said. “They see an opportunity to commit nefarious activity.”
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