After an especially deadly weekend, Chicago’s spiraling violence passed a grim new milestone: more than 600 murders so far this year, up 45 percent from the same period last year and a level that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade, the Wall Street Journal reports. Eighteen people were murdered from Friday through Sunday, bringing total homicides this year to 614. The last time annual murders topped 600 was in 2003. The murders have far outstripped the totals in some other large cities this year, with more homicides than in New York and Los Angeles combined despite Chicago’s much smaller population. Along with cities such as Baltimore and Houston, Chicago is driving a surge in the national murder total, which is projected to rise 31.5 percent this year from 2014.
While both 2003 and this year were chaotic and trying for many in the Chicago neighborhoods affected, community involvement in 2003 was relatively strong, helping police solve 51 percent of the murders that year. This year’s murder spree seems relatively random by contrast. With little help from the community to explain why most of these people were killed only 21 percent of the murders have been solved so far. Chicago is hiring almost a thousand new officers in coming months. There are fewer officers in the city today than in 2003, about 12,500 vs. more than 13,500 then. Police officials and those who study policing cite a change in gang structure and a breakdown of trust between police and the community as major factors in fueling violence and harming the department’s ability to rein it in. While Chicago’s gangs were once highly organized and structured around drug sales, a major crackdown on the drug trade has left them fragmented, with more than 600 gangs and more than 100,000 members.