The U.S. city of Chicago witnessed a sobering tally of 762 homicides, in 2016, the most in two decades, statistics released on Sunday by the Chicago Police Department said.
The record, which was more than New York and Los Angeles combined, saw the U.S. third largest city also with 1,100 more shooting incidents than it recorded in 2015.
The numbers underlined a story of bloodshed that has put Chicago at the centre of a national dialogue about gun violence, according to AP.
The data released Sunday are staggering, even for those who followed the steady news accounts of weekends ending with dozens of shootings and monthly death tolls that had not been seen in years.
The increase in homicides compared to 2015, when 485 were reported, is the largest spike in 60 years.
Police and city officials have lamented the flood of illegal guns into the city, and the crime statistics appeared to support their claims.
According to statistics, police recovered 8,300 illegal guns in 2016, a 20 per cent increase from the previous year.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a news conference on Sunday that Chicago was among many U.S. cities that have sought a spike in violence.
Johnson said the increased violence included in attacks on police, had left criminals “emboldened” to violent crimes.
He also said it was becoming clearer to criminals that they have little to fear from the criminal justice system.
“In Chicago, we just don’t have a deterrent to pick up a gun.
“Any time a guy stealing a loaf of bread spends more time pre-trial in jail than a gun offender, something is wrong,” Johnson said.
The bulk of the deaths and shooting incidents, which jumped from 2,426 in 2015 to 3,550 in 2016, occurred in only five neighbourhoods on the city’s South and West sides.
Police said the shootings in those areas generally were not random, with more than 80 per cent of the victims having previously been identified by police as more susceptible because of their gang ties or past arrests.
The city has scrambled to address the violence.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in 2016 that 1,000 officers would be added to the police department.
At the same time, police officials have been trying to figure out why homicides and shootings, which began climbing in the year before it suddenly surged.
Johnson has said several factors contributed to the increased violence.
He said 2016 was the first full year since the city was forced in November 2015 to release video of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, a black, shot 16 times by a white police officer.
The video cost former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy his job, sparked major protests around the city, and led to Federal and State investigations of the department.