ANALYSIS: 17- to 25-year-olds make up the greatest percent of Chicago homicide victims since 1991

Homicide Watch Chicago

While murders in Chicago have been steadily declining for nearly 25 years, those getting killed has remained relatively unchanged.

Chicago Police reported 928 murders in 1991 — and nearly 36 percent of the deceased were between the ages of 17 and 25, according to police data.

By 2000, the total number of murders in Chicago had decreased to 633, according to police data. Nearly 43 percent of the victims were between 17 and 25.

In 2013, the Cook County medical examiner’s office reported 441 homicides, and nearly 42 percent were between 17 and 25 years old.

Since 1991, the 17 to 25 age group has been the greatest percentage of murder victims every single year.

“Homicides have gone down in every way — for young people and old people, for males and females, for whites and blacks,” said Dave Olson, a criminal justice professor at Loyola University. “But some groups have seen a larger decline than others. The toughest group to get a reduction seems to be the 17 to 25 age group.”

While the percentage of 17- to 25-year-old victims has not changed much, Olson noted there still has been an overall reduction in the total number of victims in this age group.

In 1991, Chicago Police reported 330 victims between 17 and 25. In 2001, that number fell to 285. By 2011, it was down to 196.

In the first nine months of 2014, the medical examiner’s office reported 135 homicides in the 17 to 25 age group — about 42 percent of the 318 total homicides through September 2014.

“Homicides have changed a lot in terms of number, but the reason it hasn’t changed as a percent of all murders gets into the complicated issue of the types of homicides that young people are likely to be involved in and the degree to which those homicides can be reduced or addressed through policy changes,” Olson said.

Wesley Skogan, a professor of political science at Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research, noted that as teenagers get older they disconnect from their parents and care more about what their friends think, which is partially responsible for increase participation in violence as people enter their teen years.

Since 1991, the total number of murder victims between the ages of 10 and 13 has reached double-digits just three times — all in the early ‘90s when the murder total was greater, according to police data.

In 2004, there were zero murders in the 10 to 13 age group and in 2013 there was just one, according to data from police and the medical examiner’s office.

The murder totals jump drastically in the 14 to 16 age group. In 1993, 79 children between 14 and 16 were murdered — more than 9 percent of all murders, according to police data.

Since 2009, there have been between 20 and 30 children killed each year between the ages of 14 and 16 — about 5.5 percent of all murders, according to data from police and the medical examiner’s office.

Of the 318 homicides through September 2014, 26 were 14 to 16 years old. Only three were of between the ages of 10 and 13.

Olson said the sudden jump in the number of murder victims between these two age groups is attributable to the age-crime curve.

“Regardless of what form of criminal behavior you’re looking at, there is a large increase in participation between early adolescence and the teen years,” Olson said. “Involvement in crime increases, and so does involvement in homicides.”

Gary Slutkin, founder of CeaseFire, said teens are biologically inclined to seek out risky behavior. Slutkin noted that the frontal lobe — the part of the brain that controls judgment — isn’t very developed in teens, which means they are less likely to consider the future consequences of their actions.

“Adolescents are programmed to be more concerned about what their friends think than they are concerned about what’s going to happen to them in the future,” Slutkin said. “These circumstances are why people end up going to prison or dying when they weren’t thinking about prison or dying. They were unconsciously concerned about what their friends thought because that’s the way they’re wired.”

Olson said understanding the root cause of murders is the first step in combating the homicide rate among any demographic.

“When we look at crime trends over time, trends in murders follow trends in burglaries, theft and all the other crimes,” Olson said. “To understand homicide and reasons behind it, you have to understand the reasons behind crime, because homicides are the outcome of other forms of crime.”

A significant number of homicides committed against people in their late teens and early 20s are the result of gang violence, Skogan said.

“Chicago has a large, strong nasty, gang structure quite different from say New York or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, and that’s a big link to the homicides,” Skogan said. “Gangs are an obvious nexus between young men and guns and also a motive for using guns. These guys shoot each other over things that make you want to put your head on the table and cry. It’s a deep cultural thing, and that’s the problem.”

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