CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's murder rate so far in 2016 is the worst in nearly two decades, according to reports and the latest crime stats just released from the police department.
CPD issued a disclaimer at the top of their press release on the latest crime statistics. Officials said efforts are being made to keep communities safe, but the level of violence in this city is still unacceptable.
The department counted 43 murders, 165 shootings and 187 shooting victims in February.
The CPD posts comparisons for its raw numbers with the previous year on its crime stats website, but those numbers have not been updated since last week. ABC7 Eyewitness News has reached out to CPD for that data.
Police said gun arrests are up by 43 percent for February compared to the same time last year, while arrests for murder are up by more than 40 percent.
Shari Graham is one of Chicago's February murder victims. The 30-year-old mother of three was shot and killed in a car Friday evening while going to get food for her children.
"I will never get over this," says Graham's friend, Shawnte Savege. "I will never get over this."
"Please, please, I'm begging you to turn yourself in because she was a sweet child and you have took her away from her three little kids," says Emma Carter, Graham's grandmother.
"Everything she do was for her kids and to hear that my cousin got taken away trying to go feed her kids, don't have nothing to do with anything out here, I just can't stomach this," says Jessica Redmond, Graham's cousin.
A vigil for Graham will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante blames the increase on gang activity fueled by social media and lax sentencing guidelines for gun arrests.
"That's huge and it does drive quite a bit of the violence, and we see it after a violent act. We'll see a gang taunting another gang because they just successfully shot a rival gang member," he said.
Escalante says his department continues to confront a historic challenge with guns. He's tweaking the Compstat program, which holds district commanders accountable for reducing crime in their districts, and he's deploying nearly 100 newly trained sergeants to increase officer supervision.
Escalante also shared a video with the media, which he made for rank-and-file officers. The video includes images of the department's evolution and a message to boost officers' morale as the CPD is the focus of federal investigations and increasing accountability from the public.
In it, he addresses some of their concerns - many officers worry they could be the subject of the next viral video.
"As long as they do the job properly, they shouldn't be concerned," Escalante said.
The search for a new police superintendent also continues. When Escalante was asked if he still wants the job, he said yes, and said he believes there is a lot of good he can do in the future.
Starting Tuesday, officers will simplify their paperwork process in response to an overall decline in street stops by police.
The Chicago Tribune keeps its own count of violent deaths in the city. Those numbers include police shooting deaths and deaths considered legally justifiable - such as in cases of self-defense.
The numbers show counts for the most egregious categories of violent crime have doubled since last year. The Tribune's tally shows 45 homicides for February and 102 for the year to date.
More than 40 murders, 160 shootings in Chicago in February, CPD says
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