02/01/2012 09:27 am ET

Chicago Crime Down Overall, Despite More Homicides In January (VIDEO)

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Barely a month into 2012, Chicago's overall crime rate is down 20 percent compared to the same time period a year ago. But a rash of violent incidents last weekend where at least 20 people were shot highlights a sobering statistic within the overall crime data: homicides this January more than doubled the number recorded during the same month last year.

Chicago recorded 40 homicides as of mid-day Monday, up 53.8 percent from the 26 murders logged in January 2011, according to the Fox Chicago. Shootings remained constant between the two month-long periods, at exactly 140 incidents both years.

Comparing this homicide data with the decrease across all other crime categories, many are blaming gang activity for the imbalance. Both police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel targeted gun control and gang-related violence as explanations for the spike in murders this year.

“Chicago has a problem unlike any other major city given the size of our gangs," Mayor Emanuel said Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune. In 2011, Englewood and Harrison, Chicago's 7th and 11th Districts respectively, accounted for nearly 25 percent of the murder and shooting incidents citywide, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a release. During the first two weeks of January 2012, roughly one in three murders and shootings happened in one of those two neighborhoods.

The January homicide data will likely be a benchmark for the city to evaluate a recently-launched policing initiative that targets Chicago's two most violent neighborhoods, Englewood and Harrison. Together, the two districts accounted for one-third of the incidents logged during the first two weeks of January.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy praised the overall decrease, which he noted parallels aggressive police "enforcement actions" that include an 18 percent increase in gang dispersals and 25 percent more recorded curfew violations, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. McCarthy said he's confident the murder rate will also drop, especially once heightened enforcement in Englewood and Harrison is underway.

“If the enforcement numbers were in the trash, it would be obvious we weren't out there doing our jobs," McCarthy told the Sun-Times "But, you can see the cops and bosses are doing what they're supposed to be doing because all of the enforcement numbers are in the right direction."

McCarthy's predecessor, Jody Weis, who now heads the Chicago Crime Commission, says the increase in homicides this month is a cause for much greater alarm.

"If the average [January murder total] for the past six years is 27, you should be looking at why," Weis told NBC Chicago. Weis offered the unseasonably warm weather, and elevated turf wars between gangs displaced by the closure of public housing as possible explanations for the higher murder rate, but asserted that the data demands more attention from the police force.