Closing Districts

It is becoming clearer and clearer that Chicago has a great need for the success of CJP’s Citizen Open Data Access Project and the greatly increased access to criminal justice system data that it will provide.”  One of the new administration’s goals is to close three police district stations and merge those districts with neighboring ones.  The public meetings surrounding the closing have been very enlightening as to the extraordinary gap between the reality of the amount of crime and the fear of the amount of crime, even in some of Chicago’s safest neighborhoods.  I am going to take you through an examination of the available crime data to provide evidence about how great the gulf is between reality and fear when it comes to crime in Chicago in 2011.
Get the Facts!  CJP’s quick briefing sheets on crime in the three districts that are slated to close.  These sheets are CJP’s attempt to shed light and facts on the discussion not to endorse either side of the argument.  You can download the sheets in PDF format here: 3_cpd_closing_districts_briefing_sheets.

Let’s examine some of the allegations that were spewed at Superintendent McCarthy at the “Save the 13th District” community meeting on Oct. 25th at Ukrainian Cultural Center on West Chicago Ave.

Allegation: “You are hiding all of your data”

13th District StationNot sure what the citizens are talking about here, but the CPD’s annual reports for the last decade have been available online for years.  Also, the CPD just released their annual reports going back to the 1960s on their website.  Could and should they be more open about what happens after a report is taken? Yes, but this allegation refers to incident data only, and is simply not supported by the facts.  However, when you get to calls for police service it is an entirely different story, and agency that keeps that data.  Sadly I doubt many citizens have a clue that the Office of Emergency Management and Communications even exists or what it does.

Allegation:  “All the data is doctored”

This is a very interesting allegation but unlikely to be true (at least, not to the level needed to alter the violent crime level significantly) especially because this woman was specifically talking about data being doctored at headquarters and not the district level.  Do I believe that some police data is manipulated or altered on the local level to deal with either community pressure or pressure from superiors to reduce crime?  Yes, but once again I do not believe it is being done at a level that would significantly impact the numbers to the point where a community with high levels of violent crime would be reported as a district with a low level of violent crime.

Allegation:  “This is a secret plan to remove officers from our community districts and move them.”

 This is both true and false.  The reality is that the CPD is a very top-heavy organization with a high level of managerial staff that needs to be reduced.  Former Mayor Daley had a consultant’s report dating back to the early 1990s that detailed a number of police districts that needed to be closed.  The reality is that Daley lacked the political will to accomplish this task.  In the meantime he built countless new district stations throughout Chicago.  I have yet to see any evidence that shows that the three stations they are closing are the ones that are supported by all the crime and calls-for-service data.  The reality is that the data may reflect that a station or two other than these stations should be closed, but they cannot close those stations because Daley just rebuilt them over the last decade. It’s hard to explain why you are closing a building that you just spent $10 million constructing just a few years ago. Daley may have very well screwed the new administration, the new superintendent, and the citizens of Chicago building these superfluous police stations.

As for removing officers, this might happen but I am not sure it shouldn’t.  There have been significant population and crime shifts since the last time officers were allocated throughout the city (of course, when the last reallocation happened is in dispute).  I find it basically indefensible that police resources should not be reallocated based in large part on these shifts.  Also, there have been dramatic crime drops in large swaths of the city.  Given this I find it hard to comprehend an argument for maintaining police staff at the 1990 levels given the crime reductions experienced by Chicago and most of the rest of America.  Also, the vast majority of officers that can be removed from your police district already have been removed to create the special units under direction from Superintendent Phil Cline back in the early 2000s.  Interestingly enough, the community is arguing to keep the current levels in place because they feel safe with this staffing level despite the fact that several years ago many officers were removed from their community to create special units like the Targeted Response Unit, Special Operations Section (now called the Mobile Strike Force), Deployment Operations Section Units, Area Gun Teams, etc.

Allegation:  “Crime is out of control in our community”

Patently false!  Nothing could be farther from the truth than this claim.  It is really sad because this was one of the most repeated allegations.  The 13th District has come a long way from 1990 in terms of the amount of crime and violence the community experiences.  The major problem is that few in the room were either old enough to be in the community in 1990 or they simply do not remember what it was like back then.


13th District Crime

* This includes the following crime types:  homicides, aggravated batteries, aggravated assaults, sexual assaults, and robberies.


  • Violent crime dropped 70% from 1990 to 2009, which included a 45% drop in violent crime from 2000 to 2009.
  • From 2000-2009 the 19th district recorded the 4th lowest total in the total number of violent crimes committed.

Driving Fear of Crime

The sad reality is that the media counts on crime to help lead their newscasts and to put on the front pages of their newspapers.  Can you remember the last time the press lead a newscast with a contextualized report on crime, the big drop Chicago is experiencing and how safe people are in Chicago compared to 20 years ago?  Of course not, because that type of responsible reporting does not sell newspapers or make you tune it at 10pm to watch the news.

Another more recent culprit in the driving fear of crime is the Fraternal Order of Police, the patrol officers’ union.  They see the significant crime drop in Chicago as a threat to their very existence, since there is little reason to maintain police staffing levels as they are considering the huge drop in crime, especially violent crime, most of the city has experienced.  There is not a single business that would greet a 70% reduction in their business by maintaining or increasing staffing levels.  We all know that cuts would come well before the business saw a reduction of 70%, but the FOP is still pushing hard to maintain staffing levels.  How?  Through their rhetoric of “crime being out of control” and how most high profile violent crime incidents are a direct result of staffing level reductions.  I was on Politics Tonight on CLTV earlier this year with FOP spokesman Pat Camden and he tried to link the reduction in police staffing with the homicides of 5 police officers last year.  Besides being exploitative, this connection is just false. Yet for the ever-increasing FOP drum beat of crime being out of control, this was part of their narrative despite how terrible it was to exploit the deaths of these officers for political purposes.

There are real issues that need to be addressed regarding public safety in Chicago, none more important than the great disparity in violent crime experienced between the northside of the city and south and west sides.  I am not of the mind that simply redistributing officers to districts with higher levels of violent is going to have a major impact on the violence.  I also doubt that increasing the size of many beats on the northside is going to assist those communities in spiraling out of control in regards to the level of violence they experience.  Long-term answers are found in bringing back low and no skill employment opportunities and finding ways to increase the efficacy of our educational system in these targeted communities.  Sadly, in 2011 we continue to focus the debate in terms of the criminal justice system and with the Chicago Police Department being the focus of that debate.  Until we are willing to breakout of the frame of the criminal justice system as the answer to our deep rooted social ills we will continue to lock up our fellow citizens in cages instead of moving towards long term solutions that no only reduce our reliance on prisons while at the same time increasing public safety for our communities.

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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