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FOX 32 Sunday: Emanuel, McCarthy, Diaz on Yale murder study

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Rather than America's "Murder Capital," Chicago is, in fact, safer than it's been in 40 years. Still, an appallingly high level of bloodshed continues to plague some neighborhoods.

That's one finding of a new study of Chicago crime released this weekend. The author was Andrew Papachristos, an associate professor at Yale University's Institution for Social and Policy Studies.

STUDY: Yale University Prof. Andrew V. Papachristos - 48 years of crime in Chicago

His previous studies of Chicago crime inspired, among other things, the police department's "heat list." It contains the names of about 450 of Chicago's most violence-prone criminals, allegedly responsible for a disproportionate share of mayhem and homicide.

In an exclusive interview with FOX 32 News, Mayor Emanuel boasted that, so far in 2013, "Look, there's a 20% reduction in homicides, 25% reduction in shootings, and ... a 24% reduction in overall crime across the board."

The Papachristos study found, "Chicago rates 19th in violent crime rates among large (U.S.) cities as of 2012, at similar levels to Houston and Minneapolis." The rate of serious violent crime in Chicago was about half that of cities such as Detroit or St. Louis. That was so despite a big uptick in murder in Chicago in 2012, when 514 were killed. With 2-1/2 weeks remaining in 2013, murders totaled 421.

Mayor Emanuel said there is no one factor that explains 2013's relative good news. He gave partial credit to two members of his cabinet: Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Family & Support Services Commissioner Evelyn Diaz, who oversaw one especially effective part-time job program for kids from troubled families.

Diaz said, "The result has been striking. We've had a 51% reduction in violent crime arrests among kids who participate in that program... They are so grateful for the opportunity to have a job, to know what that feels like. They're developing relationships with male mentors. They're using each other as support."

At that point, the mayor broke in to add an anecdote about the youth jobs program: "In fact, one of the kids left the gang, is back in community college and was recognized by the White House. So these efforts, when you say, 'What did it?' There is not one thing."

Other big cities have seen similar 20% declines in homicide so far this year, including New York. The Big Apple will likely once again have fewer murders than Chicago, despite having three times as many people.

One factor that has changed very little is the racially disparate impact of violence. Although African-Americans comprise about one-third of Chicago's population, when it comes to murder they comprise about 80% of victims and offenders. Of Chicago's homicide victims so far in 2013: 334 were African-American, 75 Hispanic and 8 Caucasian.

Said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: "This reflects the same dynamic in every urban center in this country. And we spend a lot of time talking about race and crime, rightfully so. And we're kind of coming to the conclusions now that it's less about race and more about class. The distressed conditions that people live under in these distressed neighborhoods are root causes of crime."

The mayor said the most important, long-term anti-crime programs fall under the purview of Barbara Byrd Bennett, superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools.

Said Emanuel, "The biggest thing we're doing to fight crime? Full day, universal kindergarten; getting kids early into the educational system. Right values, right type of education, then you'll break the cycle of violence across the city."

Commissioner Diaz said, "In those high unemployment communities, the people who are unemployed also have low literacy."

The officials all said they believe the racially disparate impact of crime stems from factors that include unemployment. The jobless rate among African-Americans in Chicago is 24%. Just 6% of white in Chicago are unemployed.

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