By Timothy Mclaughlin and Renita D. Young
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Murders in Chicago have already topped 700 this year, police said on Thursday, as a surge in violence in the third largest U.S. city has sent the number of killings to its highest point in nearly two decades.
There were 77 murders in November, according to the Chicago Police Department, bringing the number of murders to 701 for the year to date.
Murders have surged 55 percent from the same period last year, according to CPD spokesman Frank Giancamilli. The murder rate is the highest since 704 people were killed in 1998 and 761 in 1997.
The number of murders in Chicago, a city of 2.7 million, exceeds those in Los Angeles and New York combined, according to data from the respective police forces. Both cities have considerably larger populations than Chicago.
Much of Chicago's violence occurs on its poverty stricken west and south sides.
“These are human disaster zones. And we have to get to a point where we build infrastructure to improve the communities," said William Hall, 32, a local pastor and founder of the Acts of Love Campaign in Chicago, a social services organization.
Trust in the city's police force has eroded due to a number of high-profile incidents, most notably the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, by a white police officer.
The officer, Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times, has been charged with murder.
In the wake of McDonald's killing, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in his second term, has instituted a number of reforms to overhaul the police force that is currently under federal investigation to determine whether it has systematically violated constitutional rights.
Chicago police also said there were 316 shooting incidents in the month of November and 389 shooting victims. The number of guns recovered for the year through November was nearly 8,000, up 20 percent from a year ago, while gun-related arrests were up 8 percent.
"The levels of violence we have seen this year in some of our communities is absolutely unacceptable," police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement.
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by David Gregorio)