Why is it that the only metric the Chicago media can use to determine whether or not the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is doing a “good job” is the number of homicides? Near the end of every year there are reports in the media about whether the number of homicides has increased or decreased, 2009 was no different – see Frank Main’s Sun-Times story & Annie Sweeney’s Chicago Tribune story. Should we really only be concentrating on homicide rates to determine whether or not an urban police agency is doing a good job? What’s missing? How are communities being disserved by this PR driven obsession the Chicago media has with homicides? I have a couple of ideas.
Root Causes of Crime
The Chicago media are very efficient at ignoring rampant disenfranchisement that is ever present in communities of color throughout Chicago. This goes hand in hand with their inability to cover issues that arise in communities throughout Chicago until we get the token coverage of many ward elections, “parachuting in” as media critic Steve Rhodes from the Beachwood Reporter describes it.
It seems like the Chicago media were caught completely by surprise when issues about school closings were brought up as a possible cause of the violence at Fenger. Why would they be so surprised? I mean, the media closely followed each school closing and the ramifications in the community, right? We now know that the Chicago media completely missed this issue. The closing of community schools and shipping children across racial and gang lines has and will continue to cause violence not reduce it, I call this institutional violence. The ability of community members to fight against the institutional practices is significantly hampered by the lack of the media paying appropriate attention.
The simple fact is that the CPD is powerless to alleviate the ills of institutional violence thrust upon these communities, they can however add to it. Creating specialized anti-gang units and then failing to appropriately supervise them is just another form of institutional violence. During the past Superintendent of Police’s tenure the “stick your head in the sand and hope the unit will not get caught” pillaging the communities you set them loose in did not work. We can only hope the soon to be handed down federal indictments reach high enough into the CPD to indict those whose willful neglect and misconduct allowed the Special Operations Section to operate abusively for years. I would not be surprised if we see a couple current high-level officials come face to face with the wrong end of a federal indictment.
Ignoring Violence Against Women
- What is the arrest rate (i.e. clearance rate) for sexual assault & domestic violence complaints that come to the CPD?
- Have they gone up or down over the last year, 5 years, and decade?
- How do the above rates differ by race, ethnicity, gender, age of victim, community area of assault and district of occurrence?
- What process is in place within the CPD for how a complaint for sexual assault or domestic violence is registered officially within the CPD?
- How has this process changed over the years and what are the repercussions of those changes on how the numbers have changed over the years?
I doubt that the CPD could answer any of the above questions. I also doubt the media has any idea whether they could or not because they never ask and certainly never report on the results of any inquiries. Why? Because the media, and thus the public, do not make them answer these questions because all the focus is on the homicide rate and there is no room in the media reports for incisive analysis of these types of crime. I am the consummate consumer of reporting in Chicago on crime, violence, and the Chicago Police Department. I cannot remember one report that provides answers to any of these questions. Does this mean the media does not care about violence against women? Maybe. I think it says more about the nature of the lack of in-depth reporting and the power of the Chicago Police Department’s PR department to shape news coverage.
The lack of media coverage of violence against women and the response from local criminal justice agencies significantly limits the ability for advocates and survivors to push for changes. In America, the media plays the role of agenda setter for political discourse; thus, the lack of coverage means that any discussion about violence against women is not included in any meaningful examination by policy makers and oversight agencies.
The Right Metric
I have written before about how looking at only homicides is well, wrong. I provide this link to a previous articles, here and here, rather than repeat myself again. The CPD should be attempting to prevent shootings. It has little to no role in controlling whether a shooting becomes a fatality or not, and thus either an assault, battery, or homicide, once a gun is fired. The Chicago media doesn’t seem to be able to grasp this fact.