Disinformation on Crime and Violence Doesn’t Serve Chicagoans’ Interests

The amount of disinformation coming from public officials and police leaders on the subject of crime and violence in Chicago is causing catastrophic harm to our public discussion on how the city should respond.

Spreading disinformation has been a reality in Chicago for decades, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Superintendent David Brown, and Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara have taken these practices to an entirely new low. And the problem is exacerbated by those alderpeople looking for their 5 minutes of fame, who choose to exploit the violence in Chicago for their own political gain.

To set the record straight, bail reform in Cook County started in late 2017. This followed the 2016 uptick in violence Chicago experienced when politicians and the media were screaming for more cops. In the two years after the start of bail reform, crime and violence decreased year over year. If bail reform was indeed the main, or even a significant driver of crime and violence like the Mayor, Brown, and Catanzara claim it is, it wouldn’t have taken two years to show an impact. Each of them knows this, but because the disinformation serves their own political goals, they haven’t let the facts stand in their way.

Chicago is in desperate need of leaders with integrity that will put the interests of Chicago’s residents before their own. Mayor Lightfoot campaigned as being one of those leaders and brought Susan Lee, an expert in community violence reduction strategies to Chicago to join her administration. Available evidence from leaked emails seems to support the fact that Lee’s incredibly short tenure with the Lightfoot administration was due in part to the misinformation on bail reform coming from the Mayor and Brown.

Detractors of programs like bail reform set up unrealistic goals to measure the success of the program, because it serves their political interests and ideology. For instance, they point to those who re-offend while pretrial. Supporters of bail reform are not naïve, and understand that some of those out on bail may re-offend while waiting trial, but it is a very small minority of people. The valid way to measure the outcomes of bail reform is to ask if there is a significant increase in individuals failing to appear for court, what the percentage of individuals committing new offenses while awaiting trial is, and if the number of defendants committing violent offenses while pre-trial increases significantly. Thanks to an independent empirical analysis by Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy, and Practice, we can answer those questions:

  • 17% of defendants released before and after bail reform had a new criminal case filed while on pretrial release
  • 3% of defendants released before and after bail reform had a new violent criminal case filed while on pretrial release
  • 17% of defendants released before bail reform failed to appear for a court hearing
    and 20% of defendants released after bail reform failed to appear for a court hearing

Contrary to the above, the rate at which convicted people re-offend after leaving prison, after short and long sentences, is way too high, once again proving that deterrence is an abysmal failure. We need to look at long-term solutions that make our communities healthier and safer for everyone.

Chicago will never be able to do this if our political and police leaders’ default response to crime and violence is to outright lie about the causes, or point fingers at other justice system officials, because it is politically beneficial for them. These actions alone should be cause enough to vote these political leaders out of office or remove them from positions of power. In about eight months, Chicagoans will go to the polls to make a decision about the future of Chicago. Crime and violence will be at the top of the talking points in these elections as unscrupulous politicians exploit it for political gain. Chicagoans need to force candidates to present their plans before they earn their vote, because the reality is that there really is nothing behind all the rhetoric but historically bad responses that have failed Chicago many times before.

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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