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Chicago on track to fewer homicides in 2011

By Jeremy Gorner, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — Chicago is close to ending 2011 with fewer homicides than in 2010, when city had the fewest in nearly a half a century.

From January through Tuesday, there were 423 homicides in Chicago, compared with 431 in the comparable period last year, according to preliminary statistics released by the Police Department.

Statistics show a steady decline since 2008, when the city had 513 homicides. A year later, that number was down to 459.

Overall crime is down by 8 percent this year, with slight increases in criminal sexual assaults and motor vehicle thefts.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he was pleased with the city’s overall decline in crime, but he says the department has more work to do in the coming year.

“We’ve already started a process of an introspection in the department … cops, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, commanders, everybody (will) have input into what it is we need to do to make the department more efficient,” McCarthy said Thursday .

Since McCarthy took over the department in May, he has overseen a makeover in the patrol division that included the shifting of more than 1,000 police officers from desk jobs, lockups and two specialized units to beat patrols. McCarthy stressed the need for resources to be in the hands of district commanders with the expectation that they will be able to use them as effective crime-fighting tools in the neighborhoods they oversee.

The department is stressing stricter curfew enforcement and creating alliances with elected officials, non-for-profits, neighborhood watches, businesses, clergy and schools, McCarthy said. A few months ago, the department also adopted a plan that identifies the top 12 gang-conflict zones citywide and sends the necessary amount of resources into those areas to combat gang violence and other illegal activity.

One part of the city that has traditionally been a hotbed for gang violence is the Englewood police district. Despite the gradual declines in crime numbers throughout the city, that district has had 40 percent more homicides shootings in the past year.

Dennis Rosenbaum, a professor of criminology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said sizable increases in violent crime can be attributed to such factors as unprecedented contact between rival gangs, gang members looking to reclaim their authoritative positions in the neighborhood upon their return from prison and instability in the illegal drug market.

“This problem should not be the sole responsibility of the police,” Rosenbaum said. “Studies around the world consistently suggest that violence, including gang violence, is the result of concentrated poverty, low-functioning schools, stressors on the family that lead to family dysfunction, a culture of violence through entertainment, media, and sports, discrimination and exclusion.

McCarthy said plans are in the works to reduce crime in dangerous districts like Englewood and Calumet on the South Side, and those on the West Side like Austin and Harrison.

“What is the gang unit doing? What is narcotics doing? What is the detective bureau doing regarding crime in these areas? It’s not just the patrol division,” he said. “That’s going to be the focus for 2012.”

One district McCarthy noted that has shown significant improvement over the last year is the Southwest Side’s Chicago Lawn district, which, he said, has the largest population and most reported crime. There have been about 40 fewer shootings this year, compared to last, McCarthy said, accounting for about 35 percent of the citywide reduction.

“That’s enormous,” he said.

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