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CHICAGO (AP) - Almost exactly a year after Chicago's surging homicide rate caught the nation's attention, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy rolled out statistics Monday that showed a dramatic drop in the number of killings. At the same time, they tried to allay safety concerns in the wake of a weekend fight involving more than a dozen young people on the Magnificent Mile.
Emanuel and McCarthy - appearing together at a news conference and then in separate interviews with The Associated Press - suggested that an array of police initiatives have helped reduce the number of homicides from 120 for the first three months of 2012 to 70 for the first three months of this year.
"This is a good sign," Emanuel said in a telephone interview, pointing to statistics that show this first quarter tied the same time period of 2009 for the fewest homicides in more than a half-century. "We are clearly having an impact on the homicides."
McCarthy agreed, saying statistics that show a 28 percent drop in the number of homicides in the past six months is more encouraging.
"I feel good about the direction we are going in," he said. "The fact that now we've got a 6-month trend, that's significant."
It is also welcome news for a city that has been mired in gang violence and witness to a number of recent high-profile slayings, including a 15-year-honor student who was gunned down about a mile from President Barack Obama's South Side home in January and a 6-month-old girl who was shot to death last month.
Emanuel and McCarthy also fielded questions about weekend troubles in downtown Chicago, when a group of young women attacked another woman on a train and several young people - in full view of shoppers and tourists - jostled passers-by and fought each other on Michigan Avenue. More than two-dozen young people were arrested.
Emanuel said police have increased their presence there, particularly at night and on the weekends, and that he did not believe what happened over the weekend would affect tourism.
"We have a big (police) presence on Michigan Avenue and the moment something happened the police were on it and people got arrested," the mayor told the AP.
Emanuel also voiced his continued support for a police initiative, launched in February after the deadliest January in more than a decade, that has put hundreds of officers, working overtime, on the streets.
In the month it started, there were 14 homicides, the lowest monthly total since 12 in January 1957. March's total was 16, less than a third of the 52 homicides committed in March 2012.
"This is my priority" the mayor said of what is called strategic overtime, which costs the city millions of dollars every month. "It's a priority for the city ... and we are going to make sure we have the resources to achieve the objective."