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City Touts Lower Homicide Stats, But Context Reveals Return To Normal

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Updated 4/1/2013 at 6 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on Monday touted a 69 percent drop in homicides in Chicago last month and a 42 percent drop from the first quarter of last year.

But the reality about the number of murders is a little more complicated, CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports.

If you weren’t paying close attention, you might have thought they were saying Chicago’s safer than it’s been in 50 years. In reality, it was simply a return to normal after a huge spike early last year.

Take a closer look at the numbers: 2013’s 70 first-quarter homicides was a major improvement over 2012’s 120 – but not over 2011 or 2010 or 2009.

When Levine suggested it’s misleading for City Hall to talk about a “blockbuster decrease” in homicides, McCarthy replied, “We’re 5 numbers below where we were two years ago.”

This quarter has tied with 2009, just five years ago, and just slightly better than the next two years. But as they displayed this week’s cache of confiscated weapons, McCarthy and Emanuel cited new statistics about those caught with guns that keep homicide totals from dropping further.

“Already this year there have been at least 47 shootings or murders that would not have happened if we had significant mandatory minimums,” McCarthy said.

According to a spokesman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the current minimum for illegal gun possession is one year, with some offenders serving as little as 64 days. In New York, by comparison, the mandatory minimum is 3 years.

New York’s mandatory 3-year minimum has led to dramatic decreases in gun violence, as well as the number of guns on the streets.

Legislation calling for similar a mandatory minimum in Illinois is now pending in Springfield, pushed by the mayor and prosecutors, but it faces significant opposition by the NRA and others.

Although the cold weather might have been a factor in the drop in homicides this year, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said there is no one reason to explain the drop in homicides in recent months.

“The first quarter that we’re coming out of, you have to go back to 1959 to beat the numbers that we have, as far as murder rate goes,” McCarthy said in an interview on the CBS 2 Morning News on Monday. “It’s not one thing, it’s everything we do. It has to do with our deployment; it has to do with saturation deployment, which we started in early February; it has to do with accountability; it has to do with putting the cops on the dots, and seizing guns; it has to do with good prosecutions; it has to do with community policing, which is something that we’re focusing on.”

In nearly two years heading the Chicago Police Department, McCarthy has implemented a number of strategies to cut down on violent crime. He has reorganized the department’s police districts, assigned new commanders to run them, overhauled the city’s community policing strategy, and focused on targeting gang hot spots.

Most recently, the department has begun using so-called “saturation teams,” which flood a neighborhood with officers in the wake of violent crime; as well as deploying newly-trained rookie officers to foot patrols in the most violent neighborhoods to supplement car patrols.

In the past six months, the murder rate has dropped 28 percent, police said.

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