Murders in Chicago were down 44 percent in the first two months of 2019, comparied to the same period the year before, and there was also a 24-percent decline in shootings (SCOTT OLSON)

Chicago (AFP) – Chicago police on Friday touted a significant decline in the number of people murdered in America’s third largest city, claiming major progress in the battle against runaway gun violence.

Murders were down 44 percent in the first two months of the year compared to the same period last year, police said. There was also a 24-percent decline in shootings.

Police credited “smart policing” strategies such as gunshot detectors and more surveillance cameras, and technology centers where police monitor data for potential violence hotspots.

The Midwestern city also has added nearly 1,000 more officers to its force.

Chicago police chief Eddie Johnson said a “combined approach of adding manpower and new technology along with doubling down on building neighborhood partnerships is working.”

The city had 44 murders in the first two months of this year, compared to 80 for the same period last year, according to police.

There were also 214 shootings, compared to 282 by the end of February last year and 404 during the same period in 2016, police said.

A vast majority of the killings are gun crimes concentrated in impoverished, predominantly African-American communities in Chicago’s West and South sides, which are struggling with gangs and the drug trade.

Improving economic conditions in those areas and addressing violent crime have become central issues in the current mayoral race.

Of the two final candidates, Lori Lightfoot has not explicitly committed to keeping Johnson as the police chief and Toni Preckwinkle has promised to fire him.

Chicago’s gun violence has been a regular target for criticism among conservatives and President Donald Trump, whose Justice Department sent more federal law enforcement to help local police combat illegal gun trafficking and other crimes.

Chicago police said they have seized more than 1,600 illegal guns so far this year, a six-percent increase compared to the record number of gun seizures last year.

In 2018, more than 550 people were killed in Chicago — surpassing the combined total in New York and Los Angeles, which have larger populations.

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