CHICAGO — Janis Bailey says the sound of gunshots outside her apartment window might as well replace her alarm clock most mornings.
When she hears the pop, pop, pop of the guns she knows it's time to get out of bed for an early morning shift working for the Transportation Security Administration at Midway airport.
By 2 a.m., Bailey is outside standing alone at the bus stop in the predawn dark. She says she prays silently as bullets barely miss her as she waits.
She says she's not scared, “God has protected me” she adds. But she does worry for her 12-year-old daughter who will wake up in a few hours to walk to school, even though she is with her father.
On South Leamington Avenue, children stay indoors and do not go outside to play, Bailey says.
Bailey’s worry over her daughter’s safety is for good reason. The street she lives on, the 100 block of South Leamington Avenue, has seen more gun-related violence than any other block in Chicago this year, according to data compiled by NBC News and the University of Chicago using Chicago Police Department's data on crimes committed with a firearm resulting in injury.
In the past year alone, at least 15 people have been hit by gunfire on the notorious block in nine separate shooting incidents.
The Chicago Police Department, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by NBC News, confirmed this data.
There was a drive-by shooting in January and April, four different shootings just days apart in July, a 17-year old girl shot in September, and two teenage boys hit by gunfire on separate occasions in October. No arrests have been made in connection with any these incidences.
"I’m sick of the violence, I’m tired of it," said Bailey, who had lived on the street for the last eight years. "But I’ve also gotten used to it."
A Violent Block
On South Leamington Avenue a pawn shop, several liquor stores, and a payday lender are among the few operating businesses. Many of the buildings stand abandoned with storefronts boarded up.
Will Mojica owns the Picture Perfect Hair Studio, which sits on the corner of the South Leamington block. He doesn't stay at the salon too late at night. "People always ask if it's safe when they find out the location of the salon," he said. "I'm sure it has affected business, we don't get the street traffic we would in a different neighborhood."
“Many of us hear gunshots and our hearts jump," said Father Tom Walsh, pastor of St. Martin De Porres church, which is one block over. "And it happens over and over again and so many have to continuously suffer that trauma.”
An undercover narcotics officer told NBC News the block sits on the boundary between rival gangs and is a “prime location” for selling drugs because it's tucked between a residential and commercial stretch with good lookout spots.
Ron Hood, 45, works security for the Gulf Gas station on Leamington. He said he's seen the violence get worse over the last few months. "A lot of young folks are out here because there's not much else for them to do."
The Perfect Storm
But while this particular block saw the shootings this year, there are several pockets just like it in other neighborhoods as well, said Arthur Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago. "This year it was this one, the next it may be another just like it," he said.
Neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West side have been ravaged by gun violence this year. The city hit a deadly milestone of more than 4,000 shootings and 700 homicides since January — an unprecedented spike fueled by a perfect storm of gangs, guns and social shifts, say criminology experts.
At least two other blocks in Chicago had six separate shootings each. Some fourteen other blocks experienced five separate shootings, according to NBC News and University of Chicago data.
While drugs, gangs, and guns have been frequently cited as the reasons for the escalating carnage on blocks like South Leamington, there are also other factors at play in the complex situation, Lurigio said.
“There have been less police stops, less arrests, and less clearance of these crimes,” he said. “The police are stepping back and they are less aggressive on the street, which emboldens people to commit these crimes.”
Illinois, which failed to come up with a state budget, pulled back the lever on several intervention and prevention social services programs this year. Many neighborhoods in Chicago, especially those wrought with violence, really depended on these programs so it hit them hard, said Roseanna Ander, the executive director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab.
Social Shifts and Violence
Since 2015, there has been a 24 percent decline in arrests, and an incredible 82 percent decline in police stops, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently committed to adding 970 more officers to the force, with hiring efforts kicking off this month, in an effort to combat the the city’s crippling violence.
Although adding officers might be good, it may not be the solution, Lurigio said.
“It’s not necessarily how many police you hire, it’s more about what they are doing,” he said. If current trends with arrests and police stops continue, it’s unlikely to see changes in violence even with more officers, he said.
Law enforcement should be targeted and strategic, especially since resources are limited with the city hurting for money, Ander said.
“When it comes to violence, the strategy needs to incredibly focused geographically and toward individuals who have high risk involvement," she said. Already limited money towards fighting crime is best utilized if a plan is more targeted to areas and known individuals, she said.
The Chicago Police Department did not respond to request for comment on what actions they are taking on the South Leamington block.
Bailey, who plans to move out of Illinois with her daughter, continues to pray for her family and her block, but said she won't let fear cripple her. "I have faith, which keeps me safe and I have to keep living my life."