Shootings and homicides have dropped significantly in Chicago for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic upended normal life and ushered in a nationwide rise in violent crime. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her police superintendent, David Brown, have touted initiatives that have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for antiviolence efforts and have deployed more cops to the most violent police beats, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Gun violence remains alarmingly high in Chicago, and it’s unclear how well the mayor’s measures have worked as she faces a tough reelection campaign with public safety as the top issue. Chicago will end the year with at least 723 people murdered, a 13 percent decrease from last year but still more than any other U.S. city. Overall the number of reported crimes has risen by more than 12 percent from last year, unnerving residents, sending some businesses packing, and complicating efforts to recover from the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. Thefts, including those targeting vehicles, have spiked while burglaries and robberies have also climbed. Carjackings, which pushed police to launch a specialized task force, fell by 14 percent but are still being committed at a near-record clip after surging in 2020. While most violent crime decreased in 2022, thefts of all kinds rose. Federal money that has helped fund many of the city’s public safety initiatives is expected to dry up in the coming years. That means the winner of next year’s mayoral election will have some tough decisions to make: How to keep addressing the root causes of violence while also funding a police department that is facing serious staffing issues and costly court-ordered reforms.
“We have a much longer way to go,” said Susan Lee, the former deputy mayor for public safety and the architect of Lightfoot’s signature “Our City Our Safety” initiative targeting 15 historically violent community areas with a flood of new resources. Lee said residents should be thankful that gun violence has begun to trend downward. She argued that city officials must devise a “one Chicago” approach to crime as issues that have long troubled neighborhoods on the South and West sides have spread to the Loop and other areas of the city. “[We] should not be patting ourselves on the back when the … absolute number of shootings and homicides is so high that people are afraid to do their daily functions,” said Lee, now with the violence prevention group Chicago CRED. “We are still in a crisis.” The mayor acknowledged that her safety plan is “still very much a work in progress” as she tries to transform Chicago into “the safest big city in the country” with a “whole of city government approach.” Lightfoot hopes to “bring lasting peace” to 15 violent communities on the South and West sides by focusing on “gangs, guns, and investments,” addressing specific safety concerns and offering opportunities to young people. “Crime is a complicated issue and it requires a comprehensive, multi-tiered strategy,” she said. “And that’s really what we’ve tried to do. And then looking ahead to next year, it’s taking the successes and the progress of this year and using that as the floor to build on.”