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2021 ends as Chicago’s deadliest year in a quarter century

Officers at a funeral
The Aug. 19, 2021, funeral for Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who was killed during a traffic stop on the city’s South Side.
(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

In Chicago, 2021 was one of the most violent years on record. A rise in the number of shootings left more people dead than in any single year in a quarter century, according to statistics released Saturday by the city’s police department.

The total of 797 homicides, the department said, was 25 more than in 2020, 299 more than in 2019 and the most since 1996. There were 3,561 shooting incidents in 2021, just over 300 more than were recorded in 2020 and a staggering 1,415 more than were recorded in 2019.

Other cities have also seen an increase in homicides. But Chicago, as it has in previous years, ended 2021 with more than any other U.S. city, including New York and Los Angeles, both of which had recorded at least 300 fewer homicides than Chicago for the year as of late December, according to police data from those cities.

“We all know this has been a challenging year here in the city of Chicago,” Police Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference earlier this week. “Too many families are reeling from the loss of [loved] ones due to senseless gun violence.”

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Nearly 400 people have been killed in L.A. in 2021, marking a 50% increase since 2019 and the loss of 15 years of progress driving down such violence.

Brown said the bulk of the homicides are the result of conflicts between rival gangs.

He has tried to highlight positive statistics when discussing monthly crime figures, and he continued to do so with the release of the year-end statistics. For example, he said the department cleared 400 homicides — more than in any year in nearly two decades. Saturday’s news release did not specify how many of those cleared homicides were committed in previous years but reported that the clearance rate for killings was just under 50%.

The department, which says it takes more illegal weapons off the street than any other local police force in the United States, said it confiscated a record 12,088 guns in 2021. That total coincided with the creation of a Gun Investigations Team, which has focused on interrupting the flow of illegal firearms into the city.

Brown, who came under scrutiny by members of the City Council and others as the death toll mounted, said he hopes to increase the number of detectives investigating violent crimes from 1,100 to 1,300 during the first few months of this year. He also said his goal is to reduce the caseload for detectives from about five to three.

He said the department hopes to recruit more new officers this year.

“There will be more officers on the street, not just in patrol cars or behind desks, to interact with all Chicagoans,” he said.


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