Chicago Left Out of the Plummeting Crime Rates Discussion

These articles detail the fact that the continuation of violence reductions seen across the country in the 1990s and early 2000s are continuing in many of this country’s major metropolitan areas. New York being a city of nearly three times the population of Chicago may have less total murders this year than Chicago. Los Angeles being approximately 20% larger in population than Chicago may also have less total murders. Obviously, this begs for an answer that is free from ideology and has an understanding of both the real world capabilities of the criminal justice system to impact violence and the realities of racism and exclusion on the members of many of the communities of color throughout Chicago.
  • From the Washington Post on July 20th: Titled: “Major Cities Plummeting Crime Rates Mystifying” The District (Washington DC}, New York, and Los Angeles, are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and other cities are also seeking notable reductions in homicides,” (Washington Post, Klein, July 20)

  • From the New York Times on July 18th: Titled: “Crime Drops Despite Fewer Officers in Lean Times” “…crime is down in New York – more significantly than in several other big cities around the nation. Murders, which hit 200 at midyear point, are heading toward a new low. {The peak was more than 2,200 in 1990},” (New York Times, Baker, July 18).

Three possible answers as to whose responsibility it is to prevent violence:

Answer #1: The Chicago Police Department

An obvious target is the Chicago Police for their failure to prevent homicides. Well, I have covered this issue recently here, but the fact is that the Chicago police are simply not equipped to be a significant preventive force in our communities. Beat realignment would add officers to more violent areas and hopefully allow them to play a larger preventive role. How much the police actually prevent violence at any level is a question that today still baffles criminologists. The easy answer of putting more cops on the street does not seem an avenue to a long-term answer. Over the last decade as violence has been “plummeting” in New York City the NYPD have actually been reducing the number of officers. This certainly seems contrary to any logic that would support the theory that more cops automatically equals less violence.

There are also a couple of other institutions that never get included in stories about violence prevention but maintain a role nonetheless. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) and the Cook County Circuit Court (CCCC) play a significant role, but you would never know this from reading or watching the media in Chicago. Both agencies have a significant impact, both good and bad, on how the Chicago Police do their jobs. Police think that there is a continued reluctance by the CCSAO to prosecute routine cases reinforces the belief within the Chicago Police Department that making arrests for anything less than a major felony is a waste of time because the CCSAO will not prosecute and the person that was arrested will be out in the street within hours to victimize others. The CCCC’s role also impacts both the work of the Chicago Police and the CCSAO. As both agencies see individuals being sentenced to small sentences, or just getting off completely, it reduces their desire to continue bringing cases they know will result in limited justice in their view.

The views of these agencies are not based on solid data that reinforces their assumptions. The restrictions on data access across the criminal justice system limit the ability for anyone, including agents of the various agencies, to back up assumptions about the realities of how the system operates. The lack of data does not limit the pessimistic views held by many agents of the system about how the individual agencies operate.

Answer #2: The communities are at fault

This avenue is partly true, but really equal to the little bit that the Chicago Police are responsible. Since the mid 70s slowly but surely low skill and no skill work has been disappearing from our inner cities and then eventually out of our country. The fact that participation in alternative markets has filled the void where only unemployment once was is not surprising to anyone not blinded by racism or ideology. The fact that violence accompanies participation in the alternative markets does not surprise anyone that has any knowledge of the history of the drug trade, gambling, or other alternative markets in Chicago. Race or family structure has little to do with the fact that violence exists in association with participation in these markets, nor does it impact the level of violence, it simple is woven into the fabric of alternative markets.

Answer #3: The State

The State has a responsibility to employ its citizens and thus reduce the need for participation in Alternative Markets.  More affluent communities typically do not experience the same type of violence from participation in alternative markets simply because there is very little need to seek out such avenues for employment. This does not mean that members of underserved communities are making bad choices; they are making the choices available to them. Contrary to what white suburban communities believe there are not enough minimum wage jobs to employ urban communities. Citizens of underserved communities are not choosing between a middle-class career and participation in alternative markets. For far too many, the alternative markets appear to be the only viable option for income, especially for those who have a past criminal record and find few employers willing to offer them a second chance.

Governments all of the world share many requirements, one being to find a way to employ their citizens for no other reason but to remove the need for participation in violent, alternative markets. Such markets the world over carry rewards (however dangerous and fleeting). This is a stark fact that is not typically included in the discussions about strategies to reduce violence in our city. It is easier and more politically acceptable to talk about the bad black and brown youth destroying our city. The fact is that their participation in the alternative markets was and is predictable because society has completely disregarding its responsibility to create and maintain gainful employment choices that should be the first option for anyone.

As long as these markets remain outside the legal system and few viable options exist in the mainstream labor market, violent participation in the alternative markets will continue and most likely grow. Our city and country must ultimately come up with creative mechanisms to institute a socio-economic policy of full employment to minimize the attraction to and reliance upon the expanding alternative economy.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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