One year later, antigang efforts in Chicago appear to be paying off

CHICAGO — The low point so far in Chicago’s closely watched battle with street gangs may have been the day that Michelle Obama came home for the funeral of a teenage honor student.

A year ago, the city’s bloodiest January in more than a decade had just ended. On Feb. 9, 2013, Obama stood in a church mourning 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who had been gunned down in a gang dispute she had nothing to do with. It happened just a mile from the Obamas’ Chicago house.


Since then, the number of homicides and other violent crimes that turned Chicago into a national symbol of gun violence has fallen sharply, bringing some relief to areas plagued with gang activity but also raising questions about whether the progress is sustainable.

The city led the nation in homicides in 2012 with more than 500. It ended 2013 with 415 homicides — the lowest total in nearly half a century but still far more than any other US city.

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The overall crime rate fell last year to a level not seen since 1972, and the number of shootings involving victims 16 and younger fell 40 percent in 12 months, city officials say.

Some wonder whether the decline resulted from spending more than $100 million on police overtime. But city officials claim the numbers are evidence that changing police tactics and creating and expanding after-school jobs and mentoring programs for young people are paying off.

No one pretends the problem has been solved. Yet Hadiya Pendleton’s great uncle, Nathaniel Pendleton, feels more hopeful.


‘‘It’s a long way from people feeling like they can sit out on their porches,’’ he said. ‘‘But it is getting a little better.’’

In response to the violence, authorities launched a multipronged effort that started with a gang audit, a massive pooling of information about specific gangs and their members.

‘‘We identified gang turfs, membership, who’s in conflict with who, put it into a database and put that into the hands of beat officers,’’ police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said .

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