Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chicago Crime: Are new police strategies actually working?

Chicago launched a series of new policing strategies this year to reduce crime in the worst neighborhoods. The summer is almost done, the media is ablaze with violent stories, and the official statistics are in. Crunching the numbers, it is clear that the new strategies haven't made things worse, but they also haven't made Chicago's situation much better.

CPD Chief Garry McCarthy would have you believe that shootings are going down and that the CPD 2012 strategies are working. Earlier this year, McCarthy redeployed hundreds of officers to the two highest crime police districts in the city: Englewood (7th) and Harrison (11th). Alongside the mayor, Mr. McCarthy claimed that this saturation approach would lower the historically entrenched crime rates in those districts. The question on every policy maker's and community member's mind is, did the new police strategies work at reducing crime?

The CPD seems to think so. In an early July speech, McCarthy said that Chicago is suffering from a "perception problem" when it comes to violence (Source). According to the Superintendent, crime is actually down overall, but the media continues to overemphasize incidents. In regards to media coverage, McCarthy is certainly right. We are again in the national spotlight for the city's violence. The New York Times stuck us on the front page in June. The WSJ followed in July. NPR loves featuring stories on Chicago's crime rates. But the CPD and Mayor's Office counter that the reality is not as grim as the media would have you believe.

Chicago's news outlets loves to highlight the government's optimism. Mayor Emanuel commented on the violence in a recent interview: "Where we have tried new tactics — like in Englewood where you see a 25 percent drop in homicides — how do we take that to other places?" (Source). In another press event, McCarthy spoke with CBS, which reported that "McCarthy said, with added patrol officers in the Englewood and West Lawndale neighborhoods, things have started changing around. The murder rate in those areas is down 35 percent this year." (Source).

Who is right when it comes to the actual state of Chicago crime? How do McCarthy's and Emanuel's claims hold up under scrutiny? The CPD keeps an accessible and accurate database of citywide crime data, which gives us the statistical tools we need to verify their assertions. I want to take a look at shooting stats between May 1 and August 18 for the last few years. I will start at May 1 because most of McCarthy's new strategies were well in place by that time. Everyone already knows that crime was up in March and April of 2012. McCarthy launched new strategies in the wake of those months, so it is unfair to include those stats in our totals. The CPD acknowledged that crime was too high during that time frame, and its subsequent strategies sought to prevent that. It is those strategies that we are now evaluating.

(NOTE: We will be looking at both shootings and homicides over the period. A shooting is just a failed homicide in most cases, so both have to be considered together to get an accurate picture of community gun violence.)


2009 2010 2011 2012
Shootings 747 726 699 647
Homicides 180 173 157 174
TOTAL 927 899 856 821

That's a pretty consistent downwards trend, no doubt a part of the general decline in violent crime since the late 1990s. It does not exactly speak to McCarthy's strategies; crime was falling before he put a single additional cop on a Chicago street. But it does show that citywide shootings are down.

To find out if McCarthy's new strategies are actually working, we need to look at District level data. Specifically, we should investigate the 7th and 11th Districts, where the CPD has focused for months now. Comparing 2012 numbers to those in 2009, 2010, and 2011 should give us an idea of the strategy's effectiveness.

7th District GUN VIOLENCE: 5/1 - 8/18

2009 2010 2011 2012
Shootings 87 67 84 85
Homicides 18 21 30 10
TOTAL 105 88 114 95

11th District GUN VIOLENCE: 5/1 - 8/18

2009 2010 2011 2012
Shootings 62 51 57 56
Homicides 18 19 15 16
TOTAL 80 70 72 72

Nothing really changed. Shootings are basically the same this year as any other year. More policing? More strategies? Yes to both counts. Fewer shootings? Not really. We don't even need to apply any fancy statistical tests to see that shootings haven't changed a bit. Englewood gun violence is slightly down, but it is still higher than 2010 levels.

So what happened? Overall, Chicago shootings are down, but targeted district shooting are more or less the same. It seems pretty clear that whatever strategies McCarthy initiated did nothing in those two districts. Reduced shooting rates are just the natural result of a 4+ year trend. Actual CPD redeployment has had little, if any, effect on crime.

But as any social scientist will remind you, effects can travel in two directions. Is it possible that the saturation strategies might have made things worse in other parts of the city? I mentioned this in an earlier post. When local drug markets are police occupied, gang members have to expand their operations. This means encroaching on rival gang territory in neighboring communities. The gangs do not necessarily realize that they are fleeing a saturated area, nor do they necessarily want to enter conflict with other groups. They just keep moving corners until they hit an area with noticably fewer officers and find better profits. This puts them in direct conflict with other cliques.

The question holds, do the Chicago crime numbers reflect such a theory? Let's take a look at some police districts that are immediately adjacent to Englewood: the 3rd District (Grand Grossing), the 6th Distruct (Gresham), and the 8th District (Chicago Lawn).

3rd District GUN VIOLENCE: 5/1 - 8/18

2009 2010 2011 2012
Shootings 61 73 52 62
Homicides 10 11 12 16
TOTAL 71 84 64 78

6th District GUN VIOLENCE: 5/1 - 8/18

2009 2010 2011 2012
Shootings 59 45 43 45
Homicides 13 14 11 12
TOTAL 72 59 54 57

8th District GUN VIOLENCE: 5/1 - 8/18

2009 2010 2011 2012
Shootings 47 69 48 44
Homicides 19 10 13 8
TOTAL 66 79 61 52

Mixed results here. The 8th district saw a decrease in overall gun violence, whereas the 3rd saw an increase. The 6th has remained relatively unchanged in three years. Such inconclusive data should make us hesitant to make any evaluation whatsoever about the strategies. Maybe they work, maybe they don't. The numbers just do not show it.

The big takeaway point in all of this is that McCarthy, Emanuel, and the rest of Chicago's government are premature in saying anything positive about community violence. Numbers are basically unchanged from previous years. Things have not gotten much worse, but they also have not gotten much better. All of the media coverage on these issues ignores the raw data, because the truth doesn't sell an article; Chicago crime is basically the same as it ever was.

Insofar as McCarthy's strategies were supposed to initiate a new era of Chicago crime reduction and law enforcement, they have been failures. There is nothing new about the stats this year, and there is definitely nothing new on the ground. Cops are dissatisfied. Kids are still scared. Gangs still rule the corners.

I confess that there is a lot more to crime than just police saturation and shooting numbers. McCarthy's strategies bring a lot to the streets including CompStat, social service support, increased police/community trust, gang audits, etc. Similarly, crime includes a lot more than just shootings. In that sense, there are a lot of simplifications that I made in this post so we could access the core issue of GUN violence. But because firearms are always headlining the crime reports, it is important to get a good understand of the phenomenon on its own.

Finally, just because the new CPD strategies don't seem to be working, that does not mean that the officers themselves deserve any ire or criticism. They have one of the hardest jobs in the country and their work continues to impress. The same goes for Mr. McCarthy; he's not a bad guy, and he is certainly trying.

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