Cheryl Corley | KUNR

Cheryl Corley

Last year, an alarming increase in homicides left communities — often in lockdown — reeling as officials searched for answers. That was evident at lots of news conferences as police officials and mayors in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City rolled out dire news.

At the end of 2020, Chicago police reported more than 750 murders, a jump of more than 50% compared with 2019. By mid-December, Los Angeles saw a 30% increase over the previous year with 322 homicides. There were 437 homicides in New York City by Dec. 20, nearly 40% more than the previous year.

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Crime across the U.S., like so much else in 2020, looked very (inaudible) last year's. Property crime was down, but the murder rate is up. NPR's Cheryl Corley has a look at some of the things that may be driving these changes.

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The Chicago Police Department is trying to rebuild trust in communities with which it has a terrible relationship, so it launched an outreach program that's designed to change the ways in which police approach their work. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

This month's elections, especially in the aftermath of this summer's protests against racial injustice, were seen as a test for criminal justice reforms. This was especially true for so-called progressive district attorneys.

Many policies in the higher-profile cities of Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago already had drawn the ire of some in law enforcement, including choosing not to prosecute certain low-level crimes, among other changes.

Those policies appear to be just fine with voters in cities with prosecutors who vowed to continue shaking things up.

Voters this week had their say on what police reform would look like, approving dozens of measures that will begin shaping policies at departments across the country.

This summer's massive protests over police brutality, spurred by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, demanded significant changes in policing.

Those protests have moved some cities and states to "reimagine" what departments could look like through changes in funding and legislation. Some efforts stalled, like in Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed.

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Before his positive coronavirus test, President Trump had traveled throughout the country this week to Ohio, Minnesota and New Jersey. That's now launched a full-scale effort at contact tracing throughout the president's campaign stops. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

For months, protests over the police involved killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, George Floyd in Minnesota and others around the country reinvigorated an intense debate over policing. Then when Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky., recently announced the city would pay $12 million to Taylor's family and institute a number of police reforms, that highlighted an aspect less discussed — the financial impact of police misconduct on cities and taxpayers.

Updated at 11:09 p.m. ET

Illinois moves into the next phase of its reopening plan on Friday.

The guidelines allow movie theaters, zoos, museums and health and fitness centers to reopen with limited capacity. Restaurants will be able to offer in-door dining and gatherings of 50 people or fewer will be permitted.

Schools and child care programs with social distancing policies in place can also reopen. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans can return to work.

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When COVID-19 first hit the United States, it spread through communities of color at alarmingly disproportionate rates.

This was especially true in Chicago. More than 70% of the city's first coronavirus deaths were among African Americans. Those numbers have declined, but black residents continue to die at a rate two to three times higher than the city's white residents. Researchers believe underlying health conditions that are prevalent in Latinx and black communities, such as hypertension and diabetes, make residents there more vulnerable to the disease.

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday his five-phase reopening plan, while the state saw its highest daily death toll from COVID-19.

Over the previous 24 hours, 176 residents died, said Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike, who joined the governor at his daily briefing. That brings the number of deaths in the state to more than 3,800.

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The fight over COVID-19 has become a legal battle in Illinois, pitting a Republican state lawmaker from a rural county against the Democratic governor.

Darren Bailey argued the state's latest stay-at-home order was taking an unfair economic toll on his constituents in Clay County. So he sued last week. And won. Sort of.

A Clay County circuit court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the state's extension of its stay-at-home policy.

That ruling only applies to one person, though — Bailey.

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Cook County Jail in Chicago is one of the country's largest and it's in a fierce battle with COVID-19. The rate of infection in the jail is higher than most anywhere else in the country. More than 50o people have tested positive so far. Detainees make up nearly two-thirds of the cases and three have died from apparent complications.

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What to do with a jury summons during a pandemic? That was the question Edward Lifson faced when he opened his mail and read that he was scheduled for jury duty in Los Angeles this week. Lifson believes it's an honor and a duty to serve on a jury, but, "to be honest, I would not do it right now," he says. "If they told me I had to come in I would say no."

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