2021 ends as Chicago’s deadliest year in a quarter century

2021 ends as Chicago’s deadliest year in a quarter century. In Chicago, 2021 was one of the most violent years on record. A rise in the number of shootings left more people dead than in any single year in a quarter century, according to statistics released Saturday by the city’s police department.

The total of 797 homicides, the department said, was 25 more than in 2020, 299 more than in 2019 and the most since 1996. There were 3,561 shooting incidents in 2021, just over 300 more than were recorded in 2020 and a staggering 1,415 more than were recorded in 2019.

Other cities have also seen an increase in homicides. But Chicago, as it has in previous years, ended 2021 with more than any other U.S. city, including New York and Los Angeles, both of which had recorded at least 300 fewer homicides than Chicago for the year as of late December, according to police data from those cities.

“We all know this has been a challenging year here in the city of Chicago,” Police Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference earlier this week. “Too many families are reeling from the loss of [loved] ones due to senseless gun violence.”

Brown said the bulk of the homicides are the result of conflicts between rival gangs.

He has tried to highlight positive statistics when discussing monthly crime figures, and he continued to do so with the release of the year-end statistics. For example, he said the department cleared 400 homicides — more than in any year in nearly two decades. Saturday’s news release did not specify how many of those cleared homicides were committed in previous years but reported that the clearance rate for killings was just under 50%.

The department, which says it takes more illegal weapons off the street than any other local police force in the United States, said it confiscated a record 12,088 guns in 2021. That total coincided with the creation of a Gun Investigations Team, which has focused on interrupting the flow of illegal firearms into the city.

Brown, who came under scrutiny by members of the City Council and others as the death toll mounted, said he hopes to increase the number of detectives investigating violent crimes from 1,100 to 1,300 during the first few months of this year. He also said his goal is to reduce the caseload for detectives from about five to three.

He said the department hopes to recruit more new officers this year.

“There will be more officers on the street, not just in patrol cars or behind desks, to interact with all Chicagoans,” he said.

That is the highest single-day U.S. figure yet since just before Christmas, when airlines began canceling flights, citing staffing shortages due to increasing coronavirus infections among crews. More than 12,000 U.S. flights have been canceled since Dec. 24.

Saturday’s disruptions weren’t just due to the virus. Wintry weather made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers, with more than 800 flights scrubbed at O’Hare International Airport and more than 250 at Midway International Airport. Forecasts called for 9 inches of snow. Denver, Detroit and Newark, N.J., recorded at least 100 cancellations each.

Southwest Airlines suspended operations at Midway and O’Hare due to the grim forecast, according to an airline spokeswoman. She said Southwest knows from years of operating at Midway that high winds and blowing snow make it hard to get planes back in the air quickly.

Southwest had canceled more than 450 flights nationwide, or 13% of its schedule, by midmorning Saturday. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines scrubbed more than 200 flights each, and United Airlines dropped more than 150.

SkyWest, a regional carrier that operates flights under the names American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, grounded 480 flights, one-fourth of its schedule. A spokesperson blamed weather in Chicago, Denver and Detroit and COVID-19 illnesses.

Among international carriers, China Eastern canceled more than 500 flights, or about one-fourth of its total, and Air China canceled more than 200, one-fifth of its schedule, according to FlightAware.

Sunday, when many travelers plan to return from holiday trips, is shaping up to be difficult too. More than 1,900 flights, including more than 1,000 in the U.S., were canceled by late Saturday. A winter storm with heavy snow is expected to march toward the Northeast as a new storm hits the Pacific Northwest, according to the National Weather Service.

Airlines say they are taking steps to reduce cancellations. United is offering to pay pilots three times their usual wages or more for picking up open flights through mid-January. Spirit Airlines reached a deal with the Assn. of Flight Attendants for double pay for cabin crews through Tuesday, said a union spokeswoman.

When winter weather hit the Pacific Northwest earlier this week, Alaska Airlines urged customers to delay any “nonessential” trips that were planned through this weekend. With full flights over the New Year’s holiday weekend, the airline said it could take at least three days to rebook stranded passengers.

Airlines hope that extra pay and reduced schedules get them through the holiday crush and into the heart of January, when travel demand usually drops off. The seasonal decline could be sharper than normal this year because most business travelers are still grounded.

A Colorado official said nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed, hundreds more were damaged and that three people were missing after a wildfire charred numerous neighborhoods in a suburban area at the base of the Rocky Mountains northwest of Denver.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle also said Saturday that investigators were still trying to find the cause of the blaze that erupted Thursday.

Officials had previously estimated that at least 500 homes — and possibly 1,000 — were destroyed.

The wind-whipped wildfire blackened entire neighborhoods in the area between Denver and Boulder.

Authorities had said earlier that no one was missing. But Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said Saturday that was due to confusion inherent when agencies are scrambling to manage an emergency.

Pelle said officials were organizing cadaver teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and in unincorporated Boulder County. The task is complicated by debris from destroyed structures, covered by 8 inches of snow dumped by a storm overnight, he said.

At least 991 homes were destroyed, Pelle said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in unincorporated parts of the county. Hundreds more were damaged. Pelle cautioned that the tally was not final.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation. Pelle said utility officials found no downed power lines around where the fire broke out. He said authorities were pursuing a number of tips and had executed a search warrant at “one particular location.” He declined to give details.

At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that erupted in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000. More than 500 homes were feared destroyed.

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