Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chicago Crime: "New" Anti-Gang Strategy Unveiled

City officials released details of a new, comprehensive anti-gang and crime strategy this last Tuesday. Surprisingly, there are some innovative and interesting new ideas in the program. Overall, however, the plan represents more of the same, and does not actually focus on the real problems surrounding Chicago crime: Community culture and police manpower problems. 

Anti-gang strategy released:

Before we talk about the strategy, let's talk about crime. Friends, it's a bad year for crime in Chicago. It is really bad. Homicides are up. Shootings are up. Fatal shootings are up. Heck, even fatal stabbings are up! Mayor Rahm Emanuel totes an overall reduction in city crime ("down 7%"!) at every news conference, but the majority of this reduction is in affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods on the North Side. Most of the crime encapsulated in this statistic is property: Burglary, motor vehicle theft, vandalism, etc. As this Memorial Day weekend showed, those same Chicago neighborhoods with historically high crime rates are still setting violence records. In these communities, the violence just seems intractable.

Here are the murder numbers from January 1 through May 31. I am going to compare the stats in 2012 with those in 2011, just to see if things are really as bad as the media is saying. We are going to look at neighborhoods that currently have high homicides in 2012 to see if that represents a significant change from 2012.
(Note: I'd prefer to look at Agg. Battery rates, but the Memorial Day weekend numbers won't be released on DataPortal for a week. For now, we have to make due with the more publicized homicide stats). 

Neighborhood 2011 Murders 2012 Murders
Auburn Gresham 3 7
Austin 8 11
Chicago Lawn 2 10
Englewood 6 9
Greater Grand Crossing 9 7
New City 4 8
North Lawndale 3 12
South Lawndale 7 9
West Englewood 8 9
Woodlawn 5 12

Lots of increases here! Not that we should be surprised, given that homicides are up about 49% in the city this year from last, with shootings up about 14%. Some of these neighborhoods merit special attention. For example, let's look at Englewood, West Englewood, and Austin. You might know these neighborhoods because the police already launched a saturation strategy in them (7th and 11th District) to lower gun violence. Well, looks like not much has changed there!

And then there are Woodlawn, Chicago Lawn, and New City. Those are some truly outrageous increases. My suspicion is that shootings are also on the rise in these neighborhoods, representing an overall uptick in crime that the CPD desperately wants to avoid. When the CPD is having trouble both in its targeted neighborhoods and in the communities adjacent to those targeted ones (...coincidence? I think not.), it is time to make some very public statements about some hopefully creative solutions.

After a stiff drink and a long weekend, Superintendent Garry McCarthy woke up on Tuesday morning and headed straight to the Washington Park news conference. A noticably peeved Emanuel was with him, with both men ready to unveil their new comprehensive community gang strategy. As anyone who works in social services can tell you, any program with the words "comprehensive community" should be immediately met with tremendous skepticism. The late SSA teacher, Irving Spergel, actually knew what he was talking about when he said comprehensive community intervention. Most people don't have his attention to detail.

The strategy calls for more police officers being relocated to high crime neighborhoods. It draws heavily on the demonstrably effective CompStat system (at least, effective out East) to identify violence hot spots and predict retaliatory attacks. It calls upon local community members to step up their efforts to discourage gang involvement and contact the police. More interestingly, it explicitly and publicly discusses the link between local liquor and convenience stores and the gangs that use them as field offices (something I have talked about with my friends for years and every cop has known since I was born).

Technology is instrumental in the plan. As the ABC News article states,
"A computer program contains wants, warrants, known gang members with records, and their associates. That kind of information has long been available, but not packaged in quite this fashion, and within the next month, it'll be available on the frontlines to beat officers on the laptops in their squads."
Good news for officers who need to rapidly respond to intercept criminal movements and retaliation. Operators on the ground often work with imperfect and constantly changing information. The new system would reduce some of this uncertainty and help police rapidly reduce response times. At least, if it works, but we have to be optimistic about the CPD technicians' ability to get this plan rolling.

The plan is not exactly a bad one. It is relatively realistic (relative to other initiatives that might have been announced), and fairly comprehensive. It focuses on beat officers, which have enjoyed proven success on the East Coast in the 90s crime reduction. It emphasizes CompStat, which was also instrumental to the East Coast crime reduction in cities like New York and Philadelphia. I am particularly excited at Mr. McCarthy's focus on the local convenience stores, or at least his very public acknowledgement of their role. This has long been true in our Gangster City, and it confirms the suspicions of many community members who see gang members hanging by the corner stores.

Unfortunately, the plan is inadequate in the two areas that it most needs to address. For one, Chicago just does not have the police manpower to pull off this kind of comprehensive initiative. Everyone from beat officers to sergeants knows it, but you just can't discuss that sort of problem in Chicago. Turns out that we have a money problem in this city. The budget doesn't look much better down in Springfield either. Cops are expensive, and the city coffers are basically empty.

In order to replicate the crime reduction successes in New York City, we would need at least as many officers as they had in the 90s (relative to population and city area). That means hiring officers, and that means spending money. Currently, the CPD is operating on a $1.3 billion budget. The Mayor wants that cut by $190 million to save the city money. If the CPD is supposed to cut off $190 million, how can it expected to set aside another $20 million or more for new officers, training, equipment, etc.? The police would love to have more officers out in the streets. But the budget just makes that impossible.

This strategy requires a lot of officers out in the field. In my neighborhood of Woodlawn, if I sit on the corner of 62nd and Greenwood, I will see a police car drive by every 10 minutes during peak crime hours. But Woodlawn has a lot of blocks. Criminals move fast and strike even faster. For police to prevent crimes with pure saturation, you need a lot of officers. As any martial artist or athlete can tell you, reaction is always slower than action. There is a lag time that manpower can make up for. Chicago, however, doe not have the budget to make that increased manpower a reality.

If my education at SSA has taught me anything, it is that client and community self-determination matter. You can help neither a client nor a community that does not want to help itself. And as any clinician or organizer knows, no one wants to change if you lecture them or force them. This is true even outside of the organizing literature. Teenagers won't change if you tell them to. Or friends. Or girlfriends. Ever tried to get a friend to stop smoking or drinking by saying "Dude bro, you are so dumb for drinking! Why don't you just stop you idiot?" There are more effective ways to motivate change.

In community and organizational work, change is impossible to fully realize without the thorough and willing involvement of ALL stakeholders in an issue. This is the essence of theories by Marshall Gantz, Paul Nutt, and Robert Backoff. When all interest groups are involved, the chance that transformation succeeds increased by magnitudes. Imagine if Cesar Chavez had just told the farm workers what they wanted and tried to seek their support. Or if Martin Luther King Jr. had lectured blacks in Alabama on their subjugation. No one wants to be told they need to change. They need to desire the change on their own, and they need to have a strong guiding hand in the process.

This is the most egregious failure of the new police strategy. Mr. McCarthy threw a line into his press conference about "community involvement", but you can't make any public statement in Chicago without using those words. It is not enough to have a handful of black church leaders and activists standing behind you. That is not true involvement or engagement. Chicago Beat Meetings come close (I go to my own all the time), but participation just is not high enough.

You cannot just demand that the community involve itself. Most of these neighborhoods hate the police (For reasons both good and bad, historical and contemporary), and have no incentive to help them out. 911 calls always come too late or not at all. Witnesses to crimes never come forward or are deliberately evasive under questioning. Residents are often hostile and abrasive towards officers, which in turn ensures that officers are defensive and over-wary. It is a toxic situation, but also a longrunning one. The current level of community engagement just does not address the realities of the neighborhood/police relationship. This does not necessarily mean it is guaranteed to fail. But it does bode ill for the prospects of real community involvement in the change process. By their perspective, the white police and Mayor already made their choices, and they have no say in the discussion.

If the CPD makes a concerted and committed effort, it might be able to start chiseling away at some crime problems. But these gains will only last until the sirens vanish down the block. Once the police drive on by, the criminals will resume activity. Already, drug markets have moved into vacant and low-income neighborhood housing to evade police surveillance. To truly make a difference, Chicago would either need hundreds of new officers to saturate the streets, or would need to actually enlist community support. Or both (although I fear the former is necessarily exclusive of the latter).

Although the plan will likely prove to be a disappointment, the conference was not without its victories. The best thing that came out of the weekend was the publicity. Chicagoans need to know and be utterly infuriated at the crime situation in this city. I confess that Garry and Rahm droning to a camera might not be the best way to do that. But it is better than having no coverage at all.

There are solutions to this problem, ones that fulfill some of the prerequisites for successful community change. They are innovative, sweeping, and engage community members. This strategy does not represent those badly needed solutions. I have hinted at my own possible answers to the crime problem in previous articles, but for now, I will have to settle with the CPD response.

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