Chicago murder rate drops dramatically

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Charles Thomas
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March 28, 2013 (CHICAGO) (WLS) --

In the past year, Chicago has attracted significant national attention for its high murder rate and widespread violence.

Now Chicago police and some community leaders say they may be winning the battle against violence.

The murder rate in the city has now dropped to its lowest level since 1950s.

City cops, politicians, community leaders and residents are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping this historic trend continues.

Father Michael Pfleger's Auburn-Gresham neighborhood has been murder-free for seven months. Pfleger said he's convinced members of four gangs to put down their guns and to pick up basketballs and books.

"We've seen victory in this area right here and know that it can happen throughout the city and throughout the nation," he said. "They've established a peace treaty. We've helped 80 of them get internship jobs, over 60 of them in GED programs."

Police say their heightened patrols in violence-prone neighborhoods are showing results.

From 2012 to 2013, the body count held steady in January 2013. Then in Gebruary it dropped by 50-percent and so far in March it has dropped by nearly 75-percent.

"It's only one quarter but it follows a successful fourth quarter last year," Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy said.

"We've seen these numbers come down. Now we've got to create this to become the norm for Chicago," Pfleger said.

Salem Baptist Church's Reverend James Meeks notes that God answered his recorded prayer in early February that the month's homicide total would not exceed fourteen and it did not.

"Nobody had ever asked God for a specific number to see what He could do," Meeks said.

The high-profile murders of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton and 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins overshadowed the progress while sharpening the focus of anti-violence activists.

"It also created a new kind of awakening, outrage, sensitivity, kind of we've had enough of this," Pfleger said.

Gang members are getting a message not only from police but also from imprisoned leaders, according to urban translator and former gang member Wallace "Gator" Bradley says.

"They're realizing now that there's a consequence for your action," Bradley said.

Others give President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama some of the credit. The murder rate plummeted after they came back to Chicago to mourn and express outrage.

"He had to answer the call because the community really insisted that he come," former U.S. Senator Roland Burris said.

McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been careful not to declare any kind of victory. They'll only call what's happened this year "progress".

Meanwhile the city is bracing itself for warmer weather in April. What happens when Chicago warms up is the big question.

(Copyright ©2013 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)
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