U.S. travel warning puts virus-battered Mexico on par with war-torn nations

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department urged citizens on Thursday not to travel to Mexico, despite easing a global travel ban, and warned of the rapid spread of coronavirus in the neighboring nation, in addition to rampant crime and kidnapping.

The United States and Mexico have close commercial ties and share the world’s busiest land border, crossed by many of their citizens for work, travel or family visits.

Mexico’s health ministry reported 6,590 new infections and 819 more deaths, taking its virus tally to 462,690 confirmed cases and 50,517 fatalities.

On Twitter, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, said his country had issued a “Level 4: Do not travel,” warning for all nations at the beginning of the pandemic in March.

But the stringent advisory, usually reserved for countries at war, was not lifted for Mexico, because of the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

“Its own government recognizes that contagion rates are still high,” Landau added.

The state department said, “Travelers to Mexico may experience border closures, airport closures, travel prohibitions, stay at home orders, business closures, and other emergency conditions within Mexico due to COVID-19.”

Reiterating earlier concerns about crime, its website said the Level 4 warning covered Mexico and many other countries.

Also citing the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention  (CDC)  issued a separate “Level 3 Travel Health Notice.”

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

On Chicago’s South Side, some violence-weary residents open to federal investigators

By Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Many Chicagoans vehemently oppose President Donald Trump’s pledge to send federal officers to the third-largest U.S. city, after seeing camouflaged agents deployed in Portland club and tear-gas anti-racism protesters.

But in South and West Side neighborhoods hit hardest by a recent spike in gang violence, some Chicago residents welcomed the move and said federal agents may be able to help solve crimes.

“I appreciate it and I like it,” said Cedrick Easterling, a former gang member, who was shoveling garbage scattered in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood as part of his work clearing vacant lots.

“If you sit at that park, you will hear shots all over Englewood,” said Easterling, who was once shot himself, pointing south toward Ogden Park. Like most in Chicago, Easterling is not a fan of Trump, who won just 51 of the city’s 2,069 precincts in the 2016 presidential election.

Easterling, 54, has lived in Englewood since he was seven. He said crime is particularly bad this year and Trump should consider bringing in the National Guard and using drones to record evidence of crimes as they occur

Others were more cautious, saying they feared an increased federal presence would erode civil liberties in a city that has had long-standing problems with police brutality in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Trump said last week that hundreds of officers from the FBI and other federal agencies would help fight crime in Chicago. The city is suffering a spike in violent crime, including a drive-by shooting by suspected gang members at a funeral last week that wounded 15 people.

Trump has sought to project a law-and-order stance as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, targeting cities controlled by Democrats who he says are soft on criminals. Critics say the administration is seeking to divert attention from its widely criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Eight of 10 people Reuters interviewed in wealthier and safer areas on Chicago’s North Side opposed any form of intervention from Trump, saying federal officers could fan tensions in the city and would not address underlying issues such as unemployment.

“I don’t see how the feds are going to help with anything,” said Michael Flaherty, a 53-year-old architect who lives in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

“They’re violent. Violence doesn’t fix violence.”

The view was often more nuanced on the South and West Sides, where a much higher proportion of residents have experienced violent crime.

Junior Jaber, 28, recalled the day four years ago when his friend Paul Hamilton, then 47, was killed by a stray bullet while walking his dog in Ogden Park.

“I was mad. He had nothing to do with anything,” said Jaber, who runs Englewood Food Mart, where Hamilton worked as a butcher. “We got to do something. It’s almost like a war zone out here.”

Jaber said he was all for it when he learned of Trump’s plan to send in federal agents.

“They should clean it all up. Just do their job,” said the 28-year-old father of two as he sold sodas, lottery tickets and pints of liquor.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has said the reinforcements to Chicago do not involve the type of forces that were deployed to Portland and have been accused of civil rights violations and using excessive force.

Protesters said uniformed personnel without name tags or agency badges snatched young people off the streets into unmarked vans before eventually releasing them.

Protests have continued around the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody. The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it would investigate the use of force in Portland and whether federal agents had proper identification.

Black Lives Matter activists, who have led protests against police brutality in Chicago, are suing federal officials to try to ensure agents do not violate civil rights. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has told residents all new federal resources would be “investigatory in nature” and vowed to pursue all available legal options if federal officers go beyond that.

‘INNOCENT BYSTANDERS’

While Chicago’s murder rate had been falling in recent years, there were 116 murders over the 28 days through July 19, an increase of nearly 200% compared with the same period in 2019, police department data shows.

Some residents of East Garfield Park, a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, support federal intervention after gang shootings hit unintended targets, said Damien Morris, director of violence prevention initiatives for local nonprofit Breakthrough.

“When you have women and kids getting shot – innocent bystanders – you have residents that feel like something needs to happen,” Morris said.

Trump sent a smaller number of special agents and law enforcement researchers to Chicago in 2017 after a spike in violent crime.

Phil Bridgeman, 49, said he opposes all federal law enforcement in Chicago. Even if the federal agents could help solve high-profile cases, he said, they will not solve the root causes of violent crime.

“It’s not going to help, it’s going to agitate,” said Bridgeman as he sold “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts in the middle of a busy boulevard.

Vaughn Bryant, executive director of anti-violence group Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, was concerned by “a greater threat to people’s freedom,” with the arrival of more agents.

In Englewood, a man who goes by the name Joe Pug sat in a lawn chair with several other people on a sidewalk opposite a small police station. The 49-year-old, who has lived in the neighborhood for most of his life, supports federal agents investigating shootings.

He said the South and West Sides also need massive investments in education and job creation, especially for young Black men.

“There is nothing here, nothing for them,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Daniel Wallis)

U.S. task force to tackle coronavirus market manipulation, hoarding

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is launching a task force to address market manipulation, hoarding and price gouging related to the coronavirus pandemic, following an order by President Donald Trump to crack down on such crimes.

At the same time, federal law enforcement agencies across the country are prioritizing investigations into an array of coronavirus-related crimes following reports they have surged.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said among the reported crimes were the targeting of federally-insured Medicare patients with fake tests or unnecessary antiretroviral prescriptions.

“You should be on the lookout for these sorts of schemes,” Rosen wrote in the memo, which was directed to the heads of all the Justice Department’s law enforcement components and all U.S. Attorneys offices.

Other reported crimes included threats of violence to local mayors and robberies of patients and doctors leaving hospitals.

In a separate memo, Attorney General William Barr said the new task force on hoarding and price gouging will be led by Craig Carpenito, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

“We must do the best we can to protect Americans’ rights and safety in this novel and troubling time,” Barr wrote.

Barr earlier this month directed federal prosecutors to prioritize crimes related to the coronavirus outbreak. That initiative required each U.S. Attorney’s office to appoint a designated prosecutor to oversee coronavirus fraud cases.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 660 people in the United States and infected more than 50,000, with some officials warning the crisis could last for months.

Law enforcement officials who specialize in healthcare and drug-related crimes who spoke with Reuters this week said they anticipated rising crime as fraudsters seek to capitalize on people’s fears about the outbreak.

Marking its first coronavirus case, the Justice Department revealed on Sunday it had closed down a website selling non-existent vaccines.

Barr has already launched investigations into the hoarding and price gouging of critical medical supplies, part of actions tied to an executive order by President Donald Trump that authorizes the criminal prosecution of anyone whose purchases exceed reasonable limits.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Jane Wardell)

Mexican president defends security plan after police massacre

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended his security strategy on Tuesday and blamed past administrations for chronic violence, a day after at least 13 police were killed in an ambush by suspected cartel gunmen.

Lopez Obrador told a news conference the ambush in the western state of Michoacan was “very regrettable” but reiterated that his commitment to increased spending on security and tackling the root causes of violence would eventually pay dividends.

“I’m optimistic we’ll secure peace … we’re completely dedicated to this issue, but (past governments) allowed it to grow. There’s a new security model now,” Lopez Obrador said, describing the site of the ambush as a “violent area.”

The leftist leader has sharply criticized past efforts that pursued an army-led approach to battling crime.

But after a record number of homicides in Mexico in 2018, they are on track to go even higher this year, putting Lopez Obrador under increasing pressure to stop massacres like Monday’s ambush in the violent western state of Michoacan.

He hopes his welfare schemes, including youth scholarships and apprenticeships, will help draw people away from crime.

Photos of the crime scene published on social media showed bullet-riddled police vehicles set on fire, as well as the bodies of slain officers on the ground.

They also included placards left on vehicles brazenly signed by Jalisco New Generation Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful gangs, warning police not to support rival outfits.

Federal authorities said 14 police were killed, while Michoacan officials reported that 13 officers died.

Around 80 soldiers and an army helicopter have been dispatched to investigate and find the perpetrators, Gen. Luis Sandoval, the defense minister, told the news conference.

Alongside him, Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the use of force is a legitimate government tool to deal with lawlessness, but should only be considered as a last resort.

“We will pacify the country without using violence, without repression,” Durazo said.

After taking office in December, Lopez Obrador created a militarized National Guard police force to contain the violence.

But many of the National Guard have instead been deployed to police Mexico’s borders to placate U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs if Lopez Obrador does not reduce the flow of U.S.-bound migrants from Central America.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia, Abraham Gonzalez and Diego Ore; Editing by Dave Graham and Alistair Bell)

U.S., allies urge Facebook not to encrypt messages as they fight child abuse, terrorism

By Joseph Menn, Christopher Bing and Katie Paul

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and allies are seizing on Facebook Inc’s plan to apply end-to-end encryption across its messaging services to press for major changes to a practice long opposed by law enforcement, saying it hinders the fight against child abuse and terrorism.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia plan to sign a special data agreement on Thursday that would fast track requests from law enforcement to technology companies for information about the communications of terrorists and child predators, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

Law enforcement could get information in weeks or even days instead of the current wait of six months to two years, one document said.

The agreement will be announced alongside an open letter to Facebook and its Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, calling on the company to suspend plans related to developing end-to-end encryption technology across its messaging services.

The latest tug-of-war between governments and tech companies over user data could also impact Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp, as well as smaller encrypted chat apps like Signal.

Washington has called for more regulation and launched anti-trust investigations against many tech companies, criticizing them over privacy lapses, election-related activity and dominance in online advertising.

Child predators have increasingly used messaging applications, including Facebook’s Messenger, in the digital age to groom their victims and exchange explicit images and videos. The number of known child sexual abuse images has soared from thousands to tens of millions in just the past few years.

Speaking at an event in Washington on Wednesday, Associate Attorney General Sujit Raman said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 18 million tips of online child sex abuse last year, over 90% of them from Facebook.

He estimated that up to 75% of those tips would “go dark” if social media companies like Facebook were to go through with encryption plans.

Facebook said in a statement that it strongly opposes “government efforts to build backdoors,” which it said would undermine privacy and security.

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, told Reuters the company was looking at ways to prevent inappropriate behavior and stop predators from connecting with children.

This approach “offers us an opportunity to prevent harms in a way that simply going after content doesn’t,” she said.

In practice, the bilateral agreement would empower the UK government to directly request data from U.S. tech companies, which remotely store data relevant to their own ongoing criminal investigations, rather than asking for it via U.S. law enforcement officials.

The effort represents a two-pronged approach by the United States and its allies to pressure private technology companies while making information sharing about criminal investigations faster.

A representative for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

Susan Landau, a professor of cybersecurity and policy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said disputes over encryption have flared on-and-off since the mid-1990s.

She said government officials concerned with fighting child abuse would be better served by making sure investigators had more funding and training.

“They seem to ignore the low-hanging fruit in favor of going after the thing they’ve been going after for the past 25 years,” she said.

The letter addressed to Zuckerberg and Facebook comes from U.S. Attorney General William Barr, UK Secretary of State for the Home Department Priti Patel and Australian Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton.

“Our understanding is that much of this activity, which is critical to protecting children and fighting terrorism, will no longer be possible if Facebook implements its proposals as planned,” the letter reads.

“Unfortunately, Facebook has not committed to address our serious concerns about the impact its proposals could have on protecting our most vulnerable citizens.”

WhatsApp’s global head Will Cathcart wrote in a public internet forum https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21100588 on Saturday that the company “will always oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would weaken the security of everyone who uses WhatsApp including governments themselves.”

That app, which is already encrypted, is also owned by Facebook.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn and Katie Paul in San Francisco and Christopher Bing in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Weary crowds of Venezuelans rely on ‘dog cart’ transports as buses succumb to crisis

Commuters ride on a cargo truck used as public transportation in Valencia, Venezuela July 11, 2018. Picture taken July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas

VALENCIA, Venezuela (Reuters) – On a recent afternoon, a crowd of hundreds massed on the sidewalk outside an exit from the subway in the central Venezuelan city of Valencia.

But when a flatbed truck previously used to transport water bottles pulled up nearby, a ruthless scramble kicked off with pregnant women, parents holding toddlers and elderly Venezuelans all jostling to get themselves aboard.

In this once-thriving industrial city as in much of the country, public buses have gradually disappeared due to scarce or prohibitively expensive tires, motor oil, batteries and spare parts.

Cargo trucks of all shapes and sizes have taken their place, but most lack even basic safety protections for human cargo and are increasingly associated with accidents and injuries to passengers – a further sign of the deteriorating quality of life in the crisis-stricken country.

The “dog carts,” as they are informally known in Caracas, tend to squeeze standing passengers – mostly poor Venezuelans – into the backs of the large vehicles.

“It’s tough. I’m tired on the way there, tired on the way back, I feel terrible,” said exhausted homemaker Angelica Gomez, wiping sweat from her brow as she climbed into a flatbed truck with metal railings on the sides.

There are no exact records of how many cargo trucks circulate in different cities. Schedules and rates vary from one place to another as well.

Similar forms of transport have been common in developing countries and struggling economies in recent decades, but are rarely seen in oil-rich countries such as Venezuela. Other countries have also made an effort to provide safer public transit options.

The Information Ministry did not reply to an email seeking comment on this spontaneous mode of public transport.

DWINDLING FLEET

But these cargo trucks are now nearly as common as passenger buses in Venezuela, where transport union leaders say a fleet that two years ago was estimated at of 280,000 vehicles has been whittled to just 30,000.

Similar stories abound in the country of 30 million people which is reeling from a fifth straight year of economic contraction and annual inflation estimated at some 46,305 percent in June.

Opposition lawmaker Nora Bracho estimates 39 people have died and around 275 have been injured so far this year in accidents involving unlicensed modes of public transit.

Accidents are often due to poorly maintained vehicles with bald tires or insufficient oil as well as reckless drivers, according to passengers and union leaders.

In violence-rife Venezuela, the chaos on these trucks can also be targeted by criminals.

Andreina Leal, a 36-year-old hairdresser, was robbed of her cellphone and cash during a recent trip on a truck in the western state of Tachira.

“I run the risk of falling, so I hang on tightly to the truck,” said Leal as she waited for another truck to pick her up. “I was already robbed once because I was so focused on not falling.”

Mechanic Rafael Castillo, 53, decided around a month ago to use his old truck to transport people as he needed cash.

Brushing aside worries about safety, he began picking up passengers in his truck, which has metal bars on the sides behind the cab since it was previously used to transport cattle.

“This is providing relief for people,” said Castillo, as peopled climbed in. “There are no buses, this is a way for them to get home.”

(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by G Crosse)

Business leaders turn up heat on Mexican government over crime surge

FILE PHOTO: Police officers guard the entrance of the Coca-Cola FEMSA distribution plant after it closes down due to the issues of security and violence during the campaign rally of Independent presidential candidate Margarita Zavala (unseen) in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero state, Mexico April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme/File Photo

By Anthony Esposito and Sharay Angulo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican business leaders called out the government on Monday over a recent wave of criminal activity that has terrorized large swaths of Latin America’s second-largest economy and led some prominent firms to cut back operations.

Two of Mexico’s top business groups urged the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto and the candidates hoping to succeed him in a July 1 election to stem the violence and robberies, which they say are putting workers’ lives at risk and hurting investment.

“The high levels of violence have become the greatest obstacle to (economic) activity,” Mexico’s powerful CCE business lobby said in a statement.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in turf wars between drug cartels and their clashes with security forces since former President Felipe Calderon sent in the military to crush the gangs soon after taking office at the end of 2006.

In recent weeks, dairy producer Grupo Lala shuttered a distribution center in the northern state of Tamaulipas and the world’s biggest Coke bottler, Coca-Cola Femsa, indefinitely shut down a 160-employee distribution center in southwestern Guerrero state.

Canada’s Pan American Silver Corp was the latest to act, saying on Monday it would reduce operations and suspend staff movements at its Dolores silver mine in the border state of Chihuahua because of recent security incidents.

Companies risk extortion, theft, attacks on their logistics chain and physical assault on their employees, according to the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico (AmCham).

“The impact of corruption, public insecurity, an inadequate justice (system) definitely impacts the cost of investment,” while fear of crime even keeps some executives from coming to Mexico, said Luis Gerardo del Valle, AmCham Mexico’s head of tax affairs.

Train and truck freight thefts have jumped as criminals employ more sophisticated methods.

Last week, miner and infrastructure firm Grupo Mexico said seven freight train derailments between the port of Veracruz and central Mexico were due to “sabotage” and would cost the company 312 million pesos ($16 million).

Mexican industry association Canacintra estimates that small and medium-sized companies spend the equivalent of 6 percent of their income on security, double what they did a decade ago.

‘WE CAN’T KEEP WAITING’

Mexican employers’ federation Coparmex called on the government to stop waiting until the election was over.

“Time is running out for this government, as is the public’s patience. We can’t keep waiting. This is the last call,” Coparmex said in a statement.

Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 promising to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness. After some initial progress, the situation deteriorated and killings hit their highest level on record last year.

The president’s office had no immediate response to a request for comment.

Pena Nieto is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, and the prospects of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) retaining power look grim. PRI candidate Jose Antonio Meade has been running third in nearly all opinion polls.

The principal beneficiary has been leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has built up a strong poll lead on the back of widespread disenchantment with the PRI over corruption and rising violence, as well as sluggish economic growth.

But Lopez Obrador has also faced criticism for floating a possible amnesty for criminals to restore order.

In a thinly veiled jab at Lopez Obrador, the CCE said: “While it is true that violence is not solved by violence, it is also true that crime is not ended by forgiveness or calls to Mass.”

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Sharay Angulo; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Dave Graham and Peter Cooney)

Russia postpones bill making U.S. sanctions compliance a crime

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in Moscow, Russia January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Polina Nikolskaya and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers on Thursday voted to postpone the second reading of a bill being discussed in the lower house of parliament that would make it a crime to comply with Western sanctions on Russia.

The lower house said it would hold talks next week with businesses before proceeding further with discussion of the draft law, a day after business lobby groups on Wednesday publicly voiced opposition to it.

“We support postponing (discussion) for further consultations because of numerous appeals and insufficient legal preparation,” said Nikolai Kolomeytsev, a lawmaker for the Communist party, which often backs the Kremlin on important issues.

Russian lawmakers in a first reading on Tuesday approved a bill making it a crime punishable by up to four years in jail to refuse to supply services or do business with a Russian citizen, citing U.S. or other sanctions.

The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs said in a statement on Wednesday that the bill creates risks of unreasonable criminal prosecution of Russian and foreign citizens, and could harm the investment climate.

Business representatives will be invited to discuss the bill with lawmakers next Wednesday.

“I think we can find a construction under which these fears can be removed. And then the law will pass without any fears and, generally speaking, we need it,” lawmaker Valery Gartung said on Thursday. He is a member of the Just Russia party which often allies itself with the Kremlin.

The bill is one of two items of legislation drawn up by lawmakers in response to the United States’ decision to impose sanctions on Russia last month.

Washington blacklisted some of Russia’s biggest companies and businessmen, striking at allies of President Vladimir Putin to punish Moscow for alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other “malign activities”.

Later on Thursday, lawmakers in a second reading approved the second item of legislation. The bill would give the government authority to ban trade in certain items with countries deemed to be unfriendly to Moscow.

Under the bill, the Russian president would decide which products would be affected by the restrictions, and any decision would be subject to approval from parliament.

The legislation also bars affected countries and those countries’ citizens from taking part in the privatization of Russian property.

The legislation has been diluted since it was first put forward. Lawmakers originally proposed restricting imports of U.S.-made software and farm goods, U.S. medicines that can be sourced elsewhere, and tobacco and alcohol.

The legislation must pass a third reading, before being approved by the upper house of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin.

(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe)

Philadelphia fans set fire, damage property after Super Bowl win

Fans celebrate the Philadelphia Superbowl LII victory over the New England Patriots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S. February 4, 2018.

(Reuters) – The Philadelphia Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory set off rowdy celebrations in Philadelphia as people who poured into the streets set at least one fire and damaged property early on Monday, images on social media showed.

Joyous football fans burst into jubilation in gatherings at bars and took their party into the streets, jumping up and down, setting off pyrotechnics and singing the fight song “Fly Eagles Fly.”

Some went further and ignited a fire in the middle of a street that firefighters soon extinguished. Other images showed a light pole tipping over and the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News website Philly.com reported smashed windows and toppled awnings.

Police in riot gear and on bicycles formed lines to control crowds and push people back, social media images showed.

Some people broke a display window at a department store near City Hall, and looters broke into a convenience store, grabbing merchandise and screaming, “Everything is free,” Philly.com reported.

Nearly all the light poles on one side of City Hall were toppled, and a car outside a hotel was tipped on its side, Philly.com said.

Philadelphia police and fire officials did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for information.

The Eagles, coming into the game as underdogs, defeated the five-time National Football League champion New England Patriots 41-33 in Minneapolis on Sunday.

In Boston, local media reported somber Patriots fans spilling out of local bars and heading home in the cold winter drizzle as temperatures dipped into the 30s (Fahrenheit).

“We haven’t had a single incident, thank God,” said a Boston police dispatcher.

Over in Amherst, Ma., State and University of Massachusetts police had more trouble as about 2,000 people flooded the streets near UMass Amherst and began throwing objects, setting off smoke bombs, fireworks and starting fistfights. The Boston Globe reported a number of injuries and that at least six people were arrested as police used pepper spray to disperse the angry fans.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Rich McKay; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Chicago homicides fall 16 percent in 2017

Chicago Police officers investigate a crime scene after a motorist was shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle along the 5300 block of west Monroe Street in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 31, 2017. The driver later died in the hospital, according to the police.

(Reuters) – Homicides in Chicago fell 16 percent in 2017 while shootings were down and firearms arrests were up, police said on Monday, marking a reduction in bloodshed that made the city a symbol of U.S. gun violence and an object of criticism for President Donald Trump.

Police reported 650 homicides in an annual report on crime statistics, down from 771 in 2016. Shooting incidents fell 22 percent and the number of shooting victims fell by 892 people, a 21 percent drop. Meanwhile, gun arrests increased 27 percent and police reported seizing more than 8,600 illegal weapons.

Police attributed the drop to putting more officers on the streets, investing in new technology and a smarter policing strategy.

The city was also coming off a high baseline after the number of homicides in 2016, which represented a nearly 60 percent spike from the previous year.

The United States’ third largest city still ranks No. 1 in murders, with more than the two largest cities combined. New York and Los Angles each had fewer than 300 homicides in 2017.

Overall crime for other offenses – including sexual assault, robbery, aggravated battery, burglary and vehicle theft – was down 2 percent, police said.

“I am proud of the progress our officers made in reducing gun violence all across the city in 2017, but none of us are satisfied,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in the report. “In 2018, we are going to work to build on the progress we made last year – to reduce gun violence, to save lives and to find justice for victims.”

Chicago initiated police reforms in 2017 after a federal investigation found officers routinely violated people’s civil rights, citing excessive force and racially discriminatory conduct.

The city hired more than 1,100 new police officers in 2017, and the department issued a new policy on use of force.

Crime fell by 43 percent in Englewood district and 26 percent in Harrison, the first two districts to employ so-called Strategic Decision Support Centers, police said.

The centers use predictive crime software to enable a more efficient deployment of officers, install more cameras, set up gunshot detection systems and send real-time notifications and intelligence data to officers on their smartphones, the department said.

The deployment of more than 7,000 body cameras was the largest of its kind in the United States, the report said.

Trump made Chicago crime a theme of his 2016 campaign and kept criticizing the city in 2017 even as crime fell.

“Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help. 1714 shootings in Chicago this year!” the Republican president wrote on Twitter in June.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Trump’s tweet referred to sending more federal agents to Chicago and plans to prosecute firearms cases aggressively.

A spokesman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, thanked the U.S. government for 20 additional agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives but said the progress was made before those agents had arrived.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)