“Good News on Crime” was the headline for an article from the Chicago Sun Times on Saturday July 4th. The article talks about the dramatic drop in homicides, 12.7%, from 2008. The article also lists that crime overall has dropped 10.4 %. This article makes three fatal flaws. First, the article makes the incorrect assumption that violence reductions must be related to police activities instead of looking for other possible reasons like weather. Secondly, the article assumes that the numbers reported by the Chicago Police tell the whole picture and that numbers not given out by the agency must not be relevant to the discourse on the homicides and crime in general. The third flaw is the notion that the CPD is built to prevent violence.
As police agencies are constituted in America they really do not play the preventive role they could, they are reactive. Due to politics surrounding crime in Chicago the Chicago Police Department (CPD) does not deploy officers in a method that would allow them to play a preventive role. For decades Mayor Daley and the Superintendents of the CPD that have served under him have talked repeatedly about beat realignment. Realignment of Chicago Police Beats would significantly alter how beat officers are deployed. In short, it would put more officers in violent neighborhoods where they could play a preventive role by their mere presence and away from neighborhoods that are experiencing a significantly smaller amount of crime.
Residents of neighborhoods where there are low levels of reported crime incorrectly assume that these figures are due to the number of officers present in their community and thus there is little desire to see staffing in their communities reduced. Police presence can reduce street crimes that are found in certain areas but not others due to a host of factors, including community cohesion. The fact that these communities are against realignment motivates alderman serving these communities to be against beat realignment. This process has resulted in high crime communities being underserved by the CPD and left the CPD reacting to crime in neighborhoods instead of playing a potentially preventive role. Superintendent Weis has promised to address beat realignment but has yet to deliver on this promise.
Weis has instead followed his predecessor’s misguided approach of addressing beat realignment through the use of saturation units and other roving units that are not tied to a particular district. The big mistake with addressing beat deployment in this method is that these special units have a long and sordid history of turning into highly abusive and corrupt units. The Special Operations Section is just one example that is just a couple years old now. Also beat realignment should increase the presence of beat officers that the community, in theory, would get to know and work with to secure their communities from crime and violence. The Phil Cline / Jody Weis special units practice repressive policing that is inherently unconstitutional in hopes of reducing violence. They are not around to get to know or work with community members. They are there to repress gang activity and any potential for violence by virtually any means necessary including tactics that most beat officers would never endorse or use.
Towards the end of the Sun Times article the weather is only minimally addressed: “Weis admitted that the wet, cold spring may have contributed to the decline in crime, but he noted that Chicago also has had several fair-weather weekends,” (Sun Times, Saturday July4) It seems like the Chicago media wants to ignore the role the weather plays in crime and violence. The role of the weather in shaping crime patterns is both subtle and nuanced: two qualities rarely displayed by the Chicago media. The weather does not directly cause a shooter to shoot a victim. The weather does play a role in the number of people on the streets and the increased number of interactions, and thus the increased chances of crime and violence. This is a simple concept that seems to be beyond the Chicago media’s understanding, but not the understanding of Andrew Lehren and Christine Hauser at the New York Times. These journalists analyzed 5 years of homicide data and weather data to produce a very nuanced report detailing the role weather does and does not play in crime and violence in New York City. If only our local Chicago media could demonstrate a similar flare for evidence gathering and analysis based reporting, but alas, the majority of Chicago media outlets are satisfied with parroting the P.R. strategy of CPD officials.
Pit Falls of Homicide Data Analysis
The Chicago media has a very strong affinity for reporting homicide data without every taking into account the significant flaws that are present in those numbers. The simple fact is that reporting the numbers alone implies that there are not other numbers that could impact how honestly reflective the homicide figures are of the level of violence in our neighborhoods. Purely reporting homicide figures without the additional support of aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated assault with the discharge of a weapon is really doing a disservice to our communities. Once a weapon is fired the CPD has failed in its main mission, to prevent violence in our communities. Once that bullet leaves the barrel the CPD plays no role in whether the individual is shot or whether the bullet misses. Also, the CPD, with very few exceptions, plays no role in whether or not that individual lives or dies. This is why reporting just homicide figures is a mistake because the difference between a homicide and an aggravated battery with a firearm or an aggravated assault with a discharge of weapon is completely out of the hands of the CPD. Yet, the Chicago media continues to fall prey to the propaganda of the media machine of the CPD without challenging the CPD to release numbers that would provide a more complete picture of violence in our communities. When reporting on homicides it is vital that citizens are presented with the following figures:
- Total numbers of homicides
- Total number of aggravated batteries with a firearm
- Total number of aggravated assaults with the discharge of a weapon.
The total of these three figures should then be compared to the numbers from previous years to see if there is a true decrease in violence or if the real change is that in 2009 offenders have just missed their mark more often or that E.R. doctors have become more effective at saving victims of gunfire. It could be that the CPD is taking credit for reductions in homicides that are actually the result of poor marksmanship and better medical care at local hospitals.