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Is It the Weather?: Chicago Homicides Up 60 Percent

Over the past 3 months, homicides have shot up by 60 percent, the Chicago Tribune reports. Nonfatal shootings also rose dramatically in the first quarter of the year, according to police statistics.

The Chicago Police Department has blamed the rise on increased violence among street gangs. Some criminologists, however, attribute the rise to the unseasonably warm weather the city has experienced this past winter.

“In better weather, people are outside more, interacting more with neighbors, acquaintances, even strangers, and there’s greater opportunity for conflict than when it’s cold and windy,” explained James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University. While Fox’s explanation sounds plausible, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has rejected the claim, attributing the rise to gang violence.

From Jan. 1 to April 1 this year, 120 homicides were reported in the city, a sharp rise from the 75 homicides reported during the same period in both 2011 and 2010. In addition, nonfatal shootings were up 37 percent this year. The spike is particularly startling in light of the fact that Chicago has experienced historic lows for homicides in recent years.

All other categories of crime tracked in police statistics were down in the first quarter, including a 15 percent drop in sexual assaults and a 10 percent drop in burglaries.

Homicide is defined as the killing of one person by another. However, there is a whole spectrum of crimes that fall under homicide, from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. Some homicides aren’t even considered criminal, like a killing carried out in self-defense.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police have implemented new measures to combat gang violence, including increased police presence in “conflict zones.” But what if Garry McCarthy and the police are wrong? If nice weather is causing the rise in homicides, what’s going to happen in the summer?

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