CHICAGO — Chicago ended the year with 506 homicides, according to an unofficial tally released Tuesday, making 2012 the first year the city has had more than 500 homicides in four years, and marking an increase of more than 16 percent over last year’s total.
Crime experts caution not to read too much into year-to-year increases in homicides, especially since 2011’s and 2010’s 435 homicides were the lowest the city had seen in more than 40 years. But Chicago’s tally in 2012 was the highest since 2008 and the second highest since 2003.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint a single cause for last year’s increase, statistics show the early part of 2012 suffered the biggest spike in homicides. Experts and some law enforcement sources believe the unseasonable warmth that hit Chicago during that period contributed to a homicide spike as high as 66 percent in April, and the month of March – the warmest March on record in Chicago – was especially hit hard when there were 53 homicides, up from 23 in March 2011.
Some law enforcement sources have also said the disbanding of two specialized units that swooped into “hot spots” to reduce violent crime has had an impact. Since police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was installed in May 2011 as the city’s top cop, he’s eliminated those strike forces whose success relied on swarming streets, intimidating and harassing gang members, and clamping down on any violence in the neighborhoods they targeted.
But McCarthy decided last year to move those roughly 450 officers to beat patrols in the hopes they would have more meaningful and positive interactions with the community. He’s replaced the strike forces with “area teams” to be used for saturation missions that are smaller than the old units but can be deployed by commanders closer to problem spots.
McCarthy has also said the proliferation of guns on Chicago’s streets, and the division of gangs into smaller factions, are to blame for the homicide surge.
Even though Chicago has the most police officers per 100,000 people out of the five major U.S. cities, many within the department and the police union have argued that more officers are needed on the street to combat the gun violence.