Police Resource Allocation and CJP’s Attempts to get Access to Data

It is interesting to see how little is changing in Chicago in the waning days of the Daley Administration. Despite all the talk about reallocating Chicago Police Department (CPD) resources from less violent to more violent neighborhoods, there has been no effort to make data available to the public. If we are going to have a discussion about police resources, we should at least start the discussion with an information session detailing where and how the resources are currently allocated. CJP is, of course, constantly struggling to provide you with data created by local criminal justice agencies in an effort to allow communities to be fully informed and engaged partners with those agencies. The recent police resource allocation announcement by Weis is no different.

Weis was all talk about using calls for police service and “radio assignments pending call events” – more commonly referred to as RAPS – as a basis for determining where police resources should be allocated. RAPS is a designation used to denote when a car is not available to respond to a call, but the agency still wants to keep track of the request for service. Though it would seem to be a better idea to redraw police beats every 10 years, CJP has noted that none of the data Weis talked about is being made publically available. I guess even in 2011 we are forced to trust the CPD that they have our best interests at heart, and that they are using the correct numbers and using them properly.

Since the CPD is not willing to release this information to the public, CJP has decided to release the information on our own.

The following data was culled from 10 years of CPD annual reports and from the results of a FOIA request filed with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC). Shortly after Weis announced that the CPD was looking at realigning police resources, CJP filed a FOIA request with OEMC asking for both the calls for service and the RAPS by police district for the last decade. Below we will present the data received from OEMC as well as some additional data that we are bringing forward.

Do we need to realign police resources?

The lack of transparency regarding the current level of police resource allocation prohibits citizens from engaging in a badly needed discussion about this important topic. Why? Because the reality is that the Daley Administration and the CPD do not want community members involved. Why? Because then those in power can make sure that typical Chicago politics and corruption can rule the day once again. Weis can, of course, tell everyone that this allocation is needed, but has any proof been presented to back up his statements? No, and this proof will never be presented. It will remain locked and hidden thanks to the usual Chicago political corruption that has been alive and well in Chicago for decades. By not releasing the data the usual back door politics can influence a vital public policy reform.

I am not arguing that the available data points do not point to a need for reallocation, I am just commenting on the lack of access to data that ought to be made public in order to make an informed decision.

Calls for Police Service

Our FOIA request with OEMC asked for both the calls for service and the RAPS by district over the last decade. OEMC denied our request for the RAPS due to security concerns, which I can only assume means they believe some bad guy is going to take those numbers and figure the best time and location to commit his crime. Secondly, OEMC only provided partial data for 2006 and full data for 2007-2009. Why? Because according to the OEMC FOIA Officer they only keep data that far back, which they claim is in accordance with the state’s records law. These are obviously not the actions of a government body that seeks to inform the public, but that is an argument for another day.

The major problem with the OEMC figures – other than the lack of long-term data – is that these are aggregate numbers and they don’t differentiate between calls for some sort of social disorder, i.e. loud music, and violence. Yet with that said, it is obvious from the crime figures that the correlation between the high calls for police service and high violent crimes figures in a police district are related. A refined analysis would have greater depth in the calls for service data that provides for this distinction, but the currently available data does not allow this.

Violent Crime

The violent crime figures here are those reported by the Chicago Police Department in their annual report. Academic research has been fairly consistent in their findings regarding the “the dark figure,” which represents the level of unreported crime that occurs in American society. The crime figure quoted here should not been taken as all-encompassing of the crime in these police districts; it stands to reason that in districts with more violent crime, there would be more violent crime to be included in the dark figure. One example is rape (or, as it is defined in the Illinois Criminal Code, sexual assault). The best estimates are that only 1 to 3 out of every 10 rapes are actually reported to criminal justice officials.

Population differences:

Because the police districts encompass areas that vary significantly in population density, it is not as easy as it seems to simply realign police resources based on the aggregate numbers of calls for police services.

Conclusion:

In 2011 the ability to communicate data from public agencies to the people they serve is as easy as it has ever been; however, for the most part our agencies are as closed as they have ever been. Public agencies take advantage of the fallacy that throwing a certain level of data equals transparency. If all of the data is not made public, you can bet there is a reason, especially in Chicago. The CPD’s CLEAR site is the epitome of this rule: they only display 21 days of data and you are not given the ability to download in bulk. The only way to conduct an analysis with crime data is with bulk data, and the CPD know this.

The more things change, the more they stay the same in Chicago.