The number of people shot in Chicago so far this year has already passed 1,000, a grim milestone as gun violence in the city continues at a pace not seen since the 1990s.
The city reached that dubious mark Wednesday, six to nine weeks earlier than in the previous four years, according to data compiled by the Tribune.
The day saw one 14-hour stretch in which 13 people were shot, including a 4-year-old boy hit in the foot as he walked with his mother in the Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side. In the nearby Austin police district alone, four people were injured in three shootings during the day.
The 1,000th gunshot victim appeared to be a 16-year-old boy who was wounded in the knee shortly before 4 p.m. near 131st Street and Champlain Avenue in the Altgeld Gardens public housing complex on the Far South Side.
Police officials have cited the easy availability of guns, an intractable gang problem and conflicts sparked by social media as major factors in Chicago’s increasing violence.
Many of the victims, of course, are innocents caught in the middle of gang conflicts. A front page story in the Tribune earlier in the week highlighted Khlo’e Chatman, one of at least five children younger than 10 shot in Chicago so far this year. Weeks shy of her second birthday, Khlo’e was shot in the back seat of her aunt’s car on the West Side when someone opened fire from a car moving in the opposite direction. A single bullet pierced the trunk and flattened before lodging at the base of the girl’s skull, but a few days later she was prancing around at home, digging candy out of her bag.
This marks the earliest in the year that 1,000 people have been shot since the Tribune began tracking each shooting in 2012, using data from the Chicago Police Department and street reporters. In recent years, Chicago hadn’t reached 1,000 shooting victims until June. The city hit that mark on June 4 last year, June 15 in 2014, June 26 in 2013 and on June 9 in 2012.
The numbers are so troubling in part because this represents the third consecutive year in which shootings have risen by double-digit numbers. At 1,000 victims, this year’s shooting toll exceeds last year’s total at this point — about 600 victims — by more than 66 percent. At this point in 2014, 483 people had been shot.
Not surprisingly, Chicago’s homicides have soared by comparable percentages so far this year, and if current trends persist, the city appears likely to top 500 homicides for only the second time since 2008. Through Sunday, homicides totaled 161, a 64 percent jump over 98 in the year-earlier period, official Police Department statistics show.
While the violence pales by comparison to the early to mid-1990s when homicides peaked in Chicago at more than 900 a year, the city still continues to far outpace the nation’s two larger cities, New York and Los Angeles.
So far this year, the number of people shot here far exceeds those two cities combined. Through April 10, New York — a city more than three times the size of Chicago — had seen 246 people shot, while in LA –with over a million more people than Chicago — 328 people had been shot through April 16, both departments reported.
Up until just a few years ago, Chicago police did not publicize official statistics on the number of people shot in the city. The Tribune first highlighted how the department reported only the number of “shooting incidents,” not victims, in a 2010 story that focused on one month during that summer.
In July 2013, the newspaper analyzed virtually every shooting in the first six months of that year and found that there had been more than 1,000 victims, far more than the department had revealed since it reported only shooting incidents.
The surge in violence comes at a critical juncture for the Police Department as it struggles to improve community trust in the fallout over the disturbing video of Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by an officer as the teen walked away from police with a knife in his hand.
The public furor since the video’s release last November led to Mayor Rahm Emanuel firing then-police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, weeks of street protests and the launch of a wide-ranging investigation into the Police Department by the U.S. Justice Department.
In February, the Tribune reported a precipitous drop in morale among Chicago police, citing interviews with numerous officers. They told the newspaper the McDonald shooting had made them less aggressive on the street out of fear that doing even basic police work would get them into trouble. Criminals were taking advantage of their passive approach, they said.
The Police Department also began on Jan. 1 to require its officers to fill out detailed reports every time they made a street stop as part of a new state law and a landmark agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
The change — the result of concerns over racial profiling — has not only kept officers busy with paperwork longer than before, officers said, but also increased their anxiety about being second-guessed on whom they’ve stopped.
The result was that officers made 6,818 arrests in January, a 32 percent drop from nearly 10,000 arrests a year earlier. The number of street stops also has plummeted, with 9,044 investigatory stop reports issued in January, a fraction of the 61,330 “contact cards” that police issued during January 2015.
Chicago Tribune’s Liam Ford, Peter Nickeas, Megan Crepeau and Alex Chachkevitch contributed.
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