Chicago Violence Drops in 2022: Fewer People Shot, Killed, But Summer Is Approaching
After Chicago’s deadliest year in decades, the number of people shot and killed in the 15 communities targeted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s anti-violence plan fell 26% ahead of the historically brutal summer months – a crucial step in what she described as a “decisive year” to reduce crime.
This year’s decline marks a promising trend and accounts for much of the overall reduction in citywide shootings and homicides, though the city has seen jarring waves of violence as the weather warms. Lightfoot and members of his administration have nonetheless begun to brag and take credit for the decline, which experts say is premature.
Launched in the summer of 2020, the Our City, Our Safety initiative aims to flood the most dangerous communities with new resources, ranging from violence intervention programs to employment assistance, housing and to health. The mayor touted it as an “all hands on deck” approach to violence prevention, with the city building on its COVID-19 response by bringing together various outside agencies and partners to deliver services.
Through May 8, targeted communities on the south and west sides saw a 19% drop in homicides and a 28% drop in non-fatal gunshot victims compared to the same period last year, according to an analysis by the Sun-Times. Citywide, those numbers fell by 7% and 17% respectively, representing an overall decline of 15% over the same period.
But despite trending in the right direction, the toll is still much higher than in 2019 and 2020. At least 901 people have been injured by gun violence through May 8, 173 of them fatally. Seventeen other people were killed by other means.
At a press conference last week, Lightfoot pointed to improvement in the 15 priority areas as an example of progress being made in addressing the pervasive violence that has become a serious political liability. Still, she acknowledged, “It’s not enough.”
In an interview, Lightfoot linked this year’s early improvements in target areas to the influx of resources, a new beat-focused policing approach and better community outreach, including tabletop drills training the residents to “react to some sort of violence-related trauma” and efforts to gather information about troubled blocks and buildings.
“When people feel like they have some ownership, they have data, and they have our attention and focus, it makes a huge difference,” she said. “And obviously the fact that we’re bringing what we call the whole-of-government approach, which tells our city commissioners that their work needs to be seen through a violence reduction lens and really engage with them and their senior leadership.”
She added, “I think all of those things make a difference.”
“You can’t do anything against the weather”
Tamara Mahal, who heads the city’s Community Safety Coordination Center which serves as the hub for the initiative, said her team was “cautiously optimistic about the results” so far this year. Still, crime experts doubted the plan had any real impact.
A simpler explanation for the downward trend, according to Wesley Skogan, a Northwestern University professor who specializes in crime issues: the weather has been exceptionally bad this year.
Because shootings and homicides are usually committed in public, he said they were more vulnerable to weather changes “than almost anything we track in the world of crime.” Indeed, a study published in 2020 by researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities found that between 2012 and 2016 “shootings in Chicago were more likely to occur on hot days and especially during weekends or holidays. “.
Until this week, the Chicago area had been particularly dreary for the first four months of the year, seeing more rainfall and lower temperatures than average, according to the National Weather Service.
When temperatures hit the 80s over a weekend last month, Skogan noted there was “a horrible string of shootings”. Then on Monday, as temperatures rose again, at least 12 people were shot across the city, two of them fatally.
“Weather is one of the most reliable predictors of crime,” Skogan said. “You can’t do anything against the weather.”
Lance Williams, a professor of urban studies at Northeastern Illinois University who took part in discussions about funding the mayor’s initiative, remained a vocal critic of the plan, which he described as a “public relations campaign” that is “good on paper” but not “actionable” without independent oversight and a clear budget.
He believes the decline in shooting and homicide victims is just a return to more normal levels of violence after “the pandemic turned things upside down”.
Williams noted that officers pulled back in the name of social distancing and in response to protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, prompting arrests. But he also claimed inmates were being released from Cook County Jail to avoid an outbreak, sending more ‘shooters’ home as guns bought with ill-gotten stimulus money flooded the street.
“The high-risk guys were like, ‘Oh, it’s open season. We can do whatever we want to do,” he said. “That’s what they did. They went crazy because they knew they would have no problem with the police.
“It’s a 12-month, year-round strategy”
City officials are now preparing for the upcoming summer months.
Recognizing the need to expand to cover special events and respond to violence, Chicago Police Superintendent. David Brown said the department will continue to withdraw officers from the Outer Patrol to help fill the void on an ongoing basis.
But breaking with recent tradition, it is not deploying a new summer strategy. Instead, he said the department would remain laser-focused on 55 beats that accounted for more than half of the city’s crime and would cover much of the same ground as the 15 priority areas.
So far this year, there has been a 35% drop in homicide and shooting victims on these beats, with just 13 of them seeing an increase from last year. The numbers, however, are still higher than the previous two years, following the citywide trend.
“It’s a 12-month, year-round strategy,” he told the Sun-Times. “It’s not…you do something different for summer that you don’t do for fall, spring and winter. We believe social services are needed year-round, we believe community engagement is needed year-round, we believe integrity is needed year-round.
“So it can’t be a summer-only strategy. I think you’ve missed quite a few opportunities to build relationships if you wait until summer.
Mahal, on the other hand, said his team needs to “build support” for children who are out of school during the summer. She said it’s especially important to plan events and other activities in priority areas to ensure the city “engages young people, engages families and provides safe spaces.”
“The more people we have in the neighborhood and on the street,” she added, “the more we tend to see people feeling more secure and, most importantly, building those relationships with each other. “
Shootings at S. Lawndale, Humboldt Park
Under the Our City, Our Safety plan, the city has committed more than $50 million to violence reduction efforts in 2021, though a funding breakdown posted online last year shows nearly $10 million of contracts from the initial investment had not been awarded. An additional $411 million was included in this year’s budget, but city officials were unable to provide a full account of exactly how that money is being spent.
The allocated budget:
- $115 million for vacant land reduction and park improvements;
- $85 million more for violence reduction;
- $80 million for youth employment programs and access to and awareness of public support services;
- $62 million for affordable housing and homelessness support services;
- $40 million for alternative crisis response and gender-based violence reduction efforts; and
- $30 million for small business and workforce support programs.
A list detailing violence reduction investments — the only such breakdown made public — shows contracts worth nearly $28 million had not been awarded as of Wednesday.
Authorities are still struggling to stem violence in South Lawndale and Humboldt Park, the only priority communities where the number of shooting and homicide victims has increased this year.
Two men were shot dead inside Humboldt Park on Monday just hours after three people were injured in a shooting just over a mile away.
In South Lawndale, which includes much of Little Village, Mahal said violence has apparently increased along entrenched gang lines. As of the end of last month, shootings have left five people dead and 38 others injured in South Lawndale, representing a 48% increase from the same period last year.
Brown pointed to the lack of violence switches “to address some of the challenges” facing the predominantly Hispanic community, where more than $1.5 million has been spent on street outreach over the past two years. Mahal insisted that more work was needed “at all levels”.
“Not as big as Little Village, but in other predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods we’re seeing flare-ups,” Mahal said. “So I think that’s a concern of the outreach community and something that we want to work with them to address.”