Chicago homicides in 2022 up 43% above pre-pandemic levels
Chicagoans reported 43% more homicides in 2022 than in 2019, the last baseline year before COVID-19 pandemic tensions ushered in two of the city’s deadliest years in a quarter century. Few communities were exempt from the rise in violent crime.
The odds of a Chicagoan becoming a homicide victim last year were three times higher than the odds of that person getting struck by lightning during their lifetime.
Average odds of a Chicago homicide: over 1 in 5,000. Average odds of a lifetime lightning strike: about 1 in 15,000.
One of the Chicagoans killed was Jose Tellez, a father of three who was killed in front of his daughter while hanging Christmas lights in 2021 outside his Gage Park home. His neighbor, the Rev. Ron Kooyman of the Cicero Bible Church, said the death was what finally made him move his family out of the city.
“I’ve been in Chicago 30 years. I came to Chicago to do inner-city youth and children’s ministry. I was 36 years old then, and violence has gotten much worse since then,” Kooyman said. “That’s horrendous for somebody to be killed by a couple of criminals in his own yard while putting lights on his house.”
“Jose was a hard worker from what I could tell. After the news, I went over and gave his daughter and wife a card, a book about heaven and some money to express my condolences. A friend that speaks Spanish fluently went with me to see them. The family was angry and grieving, of course. They lost their dad unnecessarily.”
“For me personally, this violence next door to me, and the citizenry electing a new mayor soft on prosecuting criminals, were like signs to me from God I should get out of the city.”
Chicago Police Department annual reports indicate homicides increased from 2019 to 2022 in 19 of the 22 police districts. Those include the Chicago Lawn and Deering districts covering Kooyman’s former Gage Park neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side. Those two districts together saw 75 homicides in 2022.
The most dangerous with 75 homicides was the Harrison District, which includes the Humboldt Park and Garfield Park neighborhoods. There were nearly 11 homicides per 10,000 residents.
The Loop and adjacent areas in the Central District saw 20 homicide victims in 2022, up from three in 2019. It was the biggest increase during the period, but the rate now about matches the city’s average of 2 homicides per 10,000 residents.
The Jefferson District, which includes Jefferson Park, Portage Park and O’Hare Airport, reported the largest drop in homicides with cases dropping from 10 in 2019 to five in 2022. It also reported the lowest number of homicides per 10,000 residents of any police district.
“I came to Chicago in about 1992. I did gang outreach when I first came here along 26th Street, and I knew I was somewhat in danger when 11 o’clock at night I’d be on a street corner talking to the gang members,” Kooyman said. “I realized at that point there could be a drive-by shooting. But as far as walking down 31st Street or 26th Street in the daytime or early evening, I didn’t have much concern.”
“There was always a chance that something bad could happen, but I didn’t worry about it because a lot of the violence was gang on gang,” Kooyman said. “But it’s no surprise that people want to leave Chicago now because it doesn’t seem like it’s limited to gang members anymore.”
Gang-on-gang violence remains the prime motive behind the city’s homicides, according to the annual police reports.
Officers concluded 41% of all homicides with a determined motive in 2022 were gang violence. They also found:
- 20-year-olds were the most common offenders
- Nearly 25% of all homicide victims were 21 or younger
- 80% of homicide suspects had police records
- Over 75% of victims had records
- Black Chicagoans were 77% of the homicide victims, but just 29% of the city’s population
- White Hispanics were 17% of victims and represent just over 14% of Chicagoans
- Less than 4% of victims were white
- Gunshots were the primary cause of death in 9 out of 10 homicides
- Arrests were made in only 57% of the murders. The arrest rate had been 72% in 2019.
If there was a plus during 2022, it was that it wasn’t 2021.
And what about 2023?
Through Oct. 1, so far homicides are down to 469 from 531 during the same period last year and 634 when the record was set in 2021.
“When I moved here, it was rare in the news to hear about smash and grabs or several people in one neighborhood being robbed at gunpoint or somebody not involved in a gang having been shot and killed,” Kooyman said.
“Now that I’m 66, I think twice about what I would do if somebody confronted me. I think we’re also not being as well protected,” Kooyman said. “I know I've called 911 and that doesn't do much good. I mean, why stay in the big city if you’re not feeling safe?”
The ranks of Chicago Police are thin. There are 1,700 fewer officers than before Lori Lightfoot became mayor, and under Mayor Brandon Johnson there are over 1,000 police vacancies and no strategy for filling them.
Fewer officers is a major factor in why there’s been an over 50% drop in annual arrests since 2019. The lack of officers is directly to blame for the dramatic increase in the number of high-priority 911 calls for which the Chicago Police Department did not have a squad car available to respond.
More police may not be the total solution to Chicago’s homicide problem, but too few cops is definitely contributing to it. Chicagoans pay some of the nation’s highest taxes for some of the poorest city services, but letting police protection follow that path is a deadly mistake.