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Despite bloody weekend, Chicago's murder rate is down, police chief says

By Tricia Escobedo, CNN
April 25, 2014 -- Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 40 people were shot over Easter weekend in Chicago
  • Nevertheless, the city's homicide rate is trending downward, police chief says
  • "A week doesn't wipe out two years of progress," says Police Supt. Garry McCarthy
  • McCarthy is pushing for stricter gun laws

(CNN) -- If you read the headlines out of Chicago this past Easter weekend -- more than 40 shot, including nine killed -- you might be surprised to learn that the city's homicide rate is still trending downward, according to the police chief.

Yes, that's right: Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told WGN Radio this week that Chicago's homicide rate is "still ahead of where we were last year, which was a record." The number of homicides in Chicago last year dropped to 415, compared to 503 in 2012, an 18% drop. That lower level hasn't been seen since 1965.

"A week doesn't wipe out two years of progress," McCarthy told WGN Radio's Steve Cochran in an interview Monday. "We always knew that we're going to have good days and we're going to have bad days, we've just got to make sure we're having more good days than bad."

But does a lower murder rate really matter in Chicago, where such rampant gun violence has earned the city the nickname "Chiraq"?

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"People always say, 'I don't feel much better, even though shootings might be down by 40%,'" McCarthy told CNN. "Well, the reason for that is kind of simple. If you have 10 shootings in your neighborhood last year, and you have six shootings in your neighborhood this year, do you feel 40% better? Absolutely not."

There are some Chicago neighborhoods -- poorer, less educated, predominantly African-American and infested with gangs -- that have murder rates 10 times higher than other Chicago areas.

McCarthy says the news coverage of shooting incidents like the ones that took place last weekend doesn't paint a complete picture of the police response.

"We are getting out in front of a lot of shootings," the police chief told CNN. "It's hard to see success sometimes when you have a spate of shootings."

Chicago's gun violence typically heats up as the temperature rises, so the police department has banked some overtime to deploy more officers to the city's trouble spots.

In the meantime, McCarthy is using the unwanted attention around the bloody Easter weekend to push legislators to pass gun control laws that he says will help police turn things around in Chicago.

"It's just insanity that there's such a proliferation of firearms that they're so easy to get your hands on," McCarthy told WGN Radio on Monday. "The studies show when there's more restrictive gun laws, there's less gun violence. It's not brain surgery, it's really really simple.

"It's going to take us a while to fix poverty and the break-up of the family units and education and jobs. But we can do something about gun laws today and we're just not doing it."

That may be an uphill climb: In February, a federal judge struck down Chicago's ban on gun sales, saying it went "too far in outright banning legal buyers and legal dealers from engaging in lawful acquisitions." And in 2010, the Supreme Court declared Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban unconstitutional.

Making it even more difficult, last year, Illinois became the 50th state to allow its residents to carry concealed weapons after a veto from its governor failed to kill the legislation.

McCarthy may get some limited help from the feds at least in keeping repeat criminals off the street: the office of newly appointed U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon announced Monday the creation of a violent crimes section to focus on how to more effectively use federal statues to prosecute those behind Chicago's gun violence, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Shortly after Rahm Emanuel took over as Chicago's mayor in early 2011, he brought in McCarthy, who had previously led the police force in Newark, New Jersey. A year into McCarthy's term, he was hailed as a hero.

Then, the city's homicide rate skyrocketed at end of 2012 and there were calls for McCarthy's resignation.

As the murder rate started to drop, those calls abated -- but Chicago's police and city leaders, particularly Rahm Emanuel, still face a lot of criticism for not doing enough.

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McCarthy, a regular on CNN's original series "Chicagoland," has admitted that the city "has one of the worst, most difficult, most intractable gang violence problems in the country."

And he's made it clear that his top priority is "dealing with gangs, guns and the press."

"The media, they keep talking about the rising toll of gun violence in Chicago while the numbers are going in the other direction," McCarthy said last year.

CNN's George Howell and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.

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