Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office sees 2nd highest caseload of all-time amid pandemic, record homicide numbers

Chicago News

CHICAGO — The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office recorded its second-highest caseload in its history in 2021, attributed to a record number of gun-related homicides, an increase in opioid overdoses and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CCMEO recorded 1,002 gun-related homicides in 2021, shattering the record of 881 set in 2020. The Office handled 1,087 total homicides in 2021, with 836 occurring in the city of Chicago.

The office recorded over 1,000 homicides for the first time since 1994.

Blacks accounted for 80 percent of the county’s homicide victims, with Latinos accounting for more than 14 percent of county-wide homicide deaths in 2021. Men accounted for 88 percent of the county’s homicide victims.

In 2021, 86 homicides were recorded with victims under the age of 18. Of those, 12 were under the age of 10.

Below is homicide data in recent years for Cook County:

  • 2021: 1,087 homicides, 1,002 gun-related homicides
  • 2020: 986 homicides, 881 gun-related homicides
  • 2019: 675 homicides, 588 gun-related homicides
  • 2018: 724 homicides, 598 gun-related homicides
  • 2017: 840 homicides, 742 gun-related homicides

The CCMEO handled a total of 12,618 cases in 2021, the second-highest number of cases in the office’s history. A record 16,047 cases were handled in 2020.

Before the pandemic began, the CCMEO handled an average of 6,200 deaths a year. The 4,497 deaths attributed to COVID-19 accounted for more than a third of the 2021 caseload.

Below is race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 deaths handled by the CCMEO:

  • Non-Hispanic White: 43 percent
  • Black: 31 percent
  • Latino: 19 percent
  • Asian: 3.6 percent
  • Native American: Less than 1 percent
  • Other/Unknown: Less than 1 percent

Cook County is also on pace to eclipse a record 1,840 opioid overdose deaths recorded in 2020. While the office still awaits hundreds of toxicology tests, the CCMEO has confirmed 1,488 opioid overdose deaths in 2021.

The office currently anticipates than between 600 and 700 of its pending cases will be attributed to opioid toxicity, bringing the expected number of opioid overdose deaths above 2,000 for the first time ever.

Below are the reported opioid overdose deaths in recent years:

  • 2021: 1,488 confirmed
  • 2020: 1,840
  • 2019: 1,295
  • 2018: 1,138
  • 2017: 1,167
  • 2016: 1,081
  • 2015: 647

Suicide rates in the county have remained consistent over the past three years, with a slight increase in 2021 over 2020. Men continue to make up a significant majority of suicides in Cook County.

The CCMEO has confirmed 482 suicides in 2021 thus far, with men making up 77 percent of the deaths. Whites accounted for 59 percent of Cook County suicides in 2021, with Blacks accounting for 19 percent and Latinos making up 14 percent.

Cook County confirmed 453 suicides in 2020 and 479 suicides in 2019. More information can be accessed at the office’s case archive here.

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