Chicago saw a huge climb in the number of homicides and shootings in January — the highest start in a year in at least 16 years, Chicago police said Monday. The news comes as the city's police force continues to struggle to regain public trust, following the release of a video in November 2015 that showed the shooting death of a black teen by a white police officer.
Fifty-one homicides were committed in the city last month, compared with 29 in January 2015, police said, according to the Associated Press (AP). There were 242 shooting incidents in the first month of 2016, up from last January’s count of 119. The number of shooting victims also reportedly increased from 136 to 292.
“We can't put our finger on" any specific reason for the increase in the numbers of homicides and shootings, said John Escalante, the city's interim police superintendent, according to the AP. However, Escalante noted that the increase coincides with an equally dramatic decrease in the number of street stops.
Escalante said that the decrease in street stops came after a policy came into effect this year that required officers to fill out lengthier forms after those stops than the brief "contact cards" they used through 2015.
He also reportedly said that officers have expressed concerns "about being the next viral video. Even when they're doing something right, they're concerned that their actions will be questioned and they will be the one that goes viral."
In 2012, the number of homicides climbed past the 500 mark, far higher than any other U.S. city, making Chicago a national symbol of gun violence, the AP reported. After police initiated a number of measures and spent millions of dollars on overtime, Chicago saw the total number fall close to 400 in each of the next two years, and in 2014, the homicide numbers fell. But last year the number of homicides and shooting incidents increased dramatically again.
Chicago has been on a close watch since concerns grew over the number of shootings and homicides in the city and across the United States. Several high-profile officer-involved shootings, some of which were caught on camera, triggered public outrage.
In late November, the city had to deal with one of the biggest crises in the history of Chicago Police Department following the release of a video showing a white officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. The shooting resulted in white officer Jason Van Dyke being charged with murder, police superintendent Garry McCarthy being fired and the U.S. Department of Justice launching a civil rights investigation. The incident also came as a blow to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s career, as activists and political opponents demanded his resignation at the time.