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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Way of the Warrior: Responsible knife carrying (Part 2)

(Took a long time to finish this one. I had trouble choosing the most important knife skills for self-defense. This hints at the complexity of the overall issue; using a knife never just comes down to a handful of skills.)

Whenever you want to carry a knife for self defense, there are three questions you have to ask yourself.
  1. What are local laws? (Part 1)
  2. What is your formal training? (Part 2)
  3. Why do you really want to carry? (Part 3)
In part 1, I looked at the laws and ordinances governing knife carrying in Chicago. The first consideration in most self-defense questions is often legal. The police and courts are the final arbiters of any violent scenario, and if you are carrying a knife, you had better be prepared for violence. Even if you can navigate complex local statutes, whether through an attorney, the police, and/or personal research, there is still a martial component to knife carrying that you have to consider.

Just because you fulfill the legal requirements to carry your knife, that does not mean you have the requisite skill, practice, experience, and training to do so. It's the same as with firearms. The weapon alone does not give you protection from violent crime. You need to use your tool and survive. A gun or knife is no good if you get disarmed, injure bystanders, cut or shoot yourself, or just don't know how to draw the weapon in time. This brings us to the second important question you must ask yourself if you intend on carrying a knife for self-defense: What is your formal training?
(Note: Another form of the question might be, "What is your experience with knives?" I imagine that most of my readers are not actually SEALS or CIA field operatives who have used knives in combat. It is likely that the majority, if not all, of their experience comes from the gym, so training becomes a proxy for experience.)

Replicating technique under pressure is a self-defense theme. It is just as important, if not more, than the actual techniques themselves. Anyone can cut up an imaginary opponent in shadow-sparring. Anyone can poke at a training partner with plastic knives in the gym. Can you execute those same maneuvers when overadrenalized, your heartrate exceeding 200, and having already been walloped in the jaw? What about if you got cut in the arm or stabbed in the gut? Most people will freeze, curl into a ball, fumble their knife, or hack wildly. You might pass out, vomit, or soil yourself. Fear and adrenaline will do that to a person, and the physiological response varies for each individual. You won't have these experiences in the gym (and if you are, tone your training down). The goal of proper stress training is to approximate those stressful physiological conditions.

You can never really be ready for a violent engagement, especially one with knives. But you can be more prepared than others. You will have a better chance if you have already trained while exhausted, while being beaten with gloved punches or pads, against multiple partners, in the dark, or in any number of other stressful circumstances. And even after months and years of such a regimen, you will probably only get 30% of the technique right when you need to do it outside of your gym. But that 30% is what separates the survivors from the victims, those who go to the hospital with cuts from those who go to the morgue with holes.

Some martial arts emphasize stress drills more than others. If you want to carry a knife for self-defense, you need to be taking one of those martial arts that puts you through stress drills while armed. Most of the explicit self-defense systems (Krav Maga, Systema, Kajukenbo, etc.) incorporate stress training into everyday curriculum. Moreover, many of them also teach knives, which gives you the best of both weapon and stress training. That means you need to be using your knife while fatigued and tired. Do 10 minutes of hard pad work. Add in some pushups, squat jumps, sprints, and unarmed defenses. Then, when your mind is frayed and your muscles limp, try and execute your knife techniques. Exhaustion like that will degrade the dexterity of even the best blades of Braavos into that of an old man.

You shouldn't go into an armed self-defense scenario with the intention of replicating Psycho's shower scene. Keep it clean, keep it professional. Under horrible pressure and fear, you will lose precision and might make a mess. But if you train to cut with cool, calm accuracy, you will be much more likely to strike true it in the worst case scenarios.

Random stabbing and slashing will damage an opponent and it might win the engagement. But in doing so, you will put yourself in needless danger, both during and after the encounter. During the fight, your uncoordinated attacks may miss vital targets, and an adrenalized attacker can persevere through mere flesh wounds (just ask the Black Knight). You might get disarmed. Your knife might snag on clothing or bone and fall from your hand. Overall, your armed attacks will count for less if you are just hacking away. You will negate the advantage of martial training and weaponry. If, however, you have practiced your targeting under stress, you might be able to replicate it when needed.

After using a knife for self-defense, you need to be able to justify your use of force to police officers, district and county attorneys, and maybe even a jury and judge. Law enforcement will favor a defender who used his weapon just as much as was needed to stop the attack. Your assailant tackled you to the ground and started pummeling you into the concrete. Fearing for your life, you slashed at his neck. Maybe he survived, maybe he did not, but that single attack (or series of attacks, if needed) can be explained. It might fall under "justified use of force", depending on the severity of the attack and the escape/deescalation options available. If you had no choice, that single slash might have saved your life. Multiple attacks, however, are increasingly difficult to justify (especially to those unfamiliar with the realities of violent confrontation). Although the police might understand why a fight turned savage, a judge, an attorney, and a jury likely will not. They do not understand stress, fear, and adrenaline. They will hold you, as a martial artist, to a higher standard than the criminal. You are a warrior, and your defense should reflect your high degree of training and skill. It should not look like something out of Sweeney Todd.

Practice clean, professional targeting in training. Do it under stress and while relaxed. This will make your aim better prepared for an actual engagement. It will also improve your odds when facing the legal aftermath of a violent confrontation.
(Note: Again, I am a social worker, not a lawyer. Please do not interpret these words as legal advice. This is just a synthesis of my experiences, observations, and ideas regarding these topics. Consult with legal experts if you have questions, doubts, or just want clarification)

Never brandish a knife unless you intend to use it. Criminals and predators are not scared when you wave a weapon at them. If anything, it only makes them more determined to come after you. This means that you never, more or less, have your weapon in hand at the beginning of hostilities. To succeed with your knife in a self-defense scenario, you need the skills to rapidly deploy the tool and bring it into the melee.

It is fairly easy to show off your quick Wild West knife draw to your friends. Doing so when tackled, pinned on the ground, slammed into a wall, or bearhugged while pummeled is another matter entirely. While fatigued and under pressure, you must practice drawing and deploying your knife from as many positions as possible. You will never know the exact circumstances under which you need to get your weapon out and ready. Instead of training for specific positions, learn general principles that will help you from a variety of angles. On the ground, learn to shrimp your legs so you can reach your pocket. While standing, learn to draw a knife even after you have been whacked in the face. If pinned to a wall, practice scooting aside and redirecting attacker momentum to expose your knife for deployment.

You should drill the draw and deployment until it becomes as easy as whipping out your iPhone. Only when it is committed to muscle memory will the skill journey with you outside of the gym. When you need it during a violent confrontation, you might fumble with your handle for a second, and you might take two wrist flicks to get the blade out. But if you had not put in the hours of draw/deployment training, the weapon might never clear your pocket, or you might just cut yourself when opening it.

Formal training encompasses a lot more than just these three points. But if you are looking for the three most "important" aspects to self-defense knife training, these three should be at the forefront of your practice.
  • Train under stress. Learn to execute techniques while exhausted, sore, and under high pressure. 
  • Practice professional, precise targeting. Your attacks will count for more if they hit vital areas. The cleaner your defense, the easier it will be to justify it to the law. 
  • Draw and deploy your knife (under stress) until it becomes second nature. Be able to do it from any position. 
I am definitely not a knife expert in any system, but in my 5-6 years of martial experience, these lessons have really stuck with me. You don't need to dedicate yourselves to the above bullet points, but you should at least give them serious consideration.

In the final part of the series, I will talk about what it means to want to carry a knife. Why are you really carrying? How does that affect your use of the weapon? We will consider this, and the previous 2 parts, to make some final conclusions on knife carrying.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Way of the Warrior: Responsible knife carrying (Part 1)

Should you carry a knife for self-defense? A lot of my students and peers ask or discuss this question, and there are as many answers as there are inquiries. As individuals, we martial artists want to be in control of situation. We do not want to become victims, especially of crimes we explicitly train to overcome. A weapon gives us a secondary, or primary, layer of defense and offense. It equalizes strength and size differences, and gives a literal edge to its wielder in combat.

As with many martial issues, it ultimately becomes a point of personal preference and comfort. I never carry a weapon, but my teacher carries a folding knife. In some states, everyone tucks a bowie in their belt. In others, you can incur fines and jail time just by walking from the store to your car with a newly purchased kitchen knife in hand. Kali and Silat practitioners are more likely to forget their cell phones than their blades when they leave home, but judoka and jujitsu men might not even have held a plastic training knife. Despite these variations between person, region, and style, there are still objective points to consider (some of which are incidentally personal, regional, and stylistic). In my experience, knife carrying should always return to three questions:
  1. What are local laws? (Part 1)
  2. What is your formal training? (Part 2)
  3. Why do you really want to carry? (Part 3)
In these next few posts, I want to talk about these 3 questions and how they can inform you about knife-carrying tendencies. I am going to start with the letter of the law. Self-defense confrontations are won as much in the courthouse and police station as on the sidewalk. The letter and spirit of the law will arbitrate your post-conflict fate just as much, if not more, than your actual prowess in battle.

A close friend of mine in law school would chastise me if I left out a disclaimer. I am not a lawyer. Most martial art teachers are not lawyers. For the final word on legal issues, talk to a police officer or a lawyer in your city. That said, Chicago is my home and I know enough of its laws to offer a relatively informed opinion; of course, don't trust your freedom and bank account with these legal observations. Do try and use them as a starting point for more extensive research.

Most cities allow knife-carrying within certain limits, even those with strict gun control ordinances (such as Chicago and Washington, D.C.). This makes blades a potentially attractive replacement for a concealed gun, or other more specialized self-defense tools. Chicago outlaws not only tasers and stun guns, but also telescoping force batons, knuckle dusters, and 'excessively strong' pepper sprays (such as hornet or bear spray). This leaves knives as the 'best' weapon you can still legally bring around town. But what are the laws governing your tool of choice? If you live in Chicago and want to arm yourself with a blade, you need to keep the following three laws in mind. I am going out of order to start with the single most important piece of knife-related legislation that Chicago martial artists must remember.

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-24
    (f)     No person shall carry concealed on or about his person a or dagger, dirk, stiletto, bowie knife, commando knife, any blade of which is released by a spring mechanism, including knives known as “switch- blades” or any other type or kind of knife, any blade of which is more than two and one-half inches in length, ordinary razor or other dangerous weapon except that no person 18 years of age or under shall carry concealed on or about his person, any knife, the blade of which is two inches in length or longer.  

This is a longer legal article, but I have bolded the most important part. If you don't remember anything else from this entire post, at least try and remember the Chicago length requirements for a legally carried knife:
A police officer told me that the "blade" is measured from the base of the protruding metal to the tip. Anything inside the handle (the 'tang') does not count against your knife length. How strict are these requirements? It depends what you are doing with the knife. If you got pulled over for running a stop sign and had a 2.6 inch knife on you, it is unlikely you would face charges. If, however, you stab a robber with a 2.6 inch blade in a self-defense confrontation, you could well be charged with a weapons violation because of the magnitude of the offense. Even if you are justified in defending yourself, the law can still be against your weapon. To make matters worse, the robber might be able to pursue a civil suit against you for your illegal knife.

Ignorance is never a good criminal defense. If you can't be bothered to measure your knife, you are clearly not responsible enough to carry one in the first place. Now, finding a decent 2.5 inch knife is another matter entirely; most of the better brands are at least 3 inches. Cold Steel has some good options, although they might feel uncomfortable given their small size.

As a quick reference, American dollar bills are all 2.61 inches wide. Your knife needs to be just a hair shorter than the width of our currency, at least in Chicago.

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-24
    (c)     No person shall carry or possess any knife, the blade of which is released by a spring mechanism, including knives known as “switch-blades”, any blackjack, slingshot, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles or bludgeon

It's the standard bad boy weapon of the mid 20th Century. They are fun to play with and fun to show off. They are also wildly illegal in Chicago. NO SWITCHBLADES! What exactly is a "switchblade"? If it has a spring or other assisted release button/switch, it is a switchblade in the eyes of the police and the courts. It does not matter how the weapon looks. It only matter is it has a spring or a similar automatic release mechanism. Both blades below are switchblade, even though the one on the left appears to be a more traditional folding knife.
In both cases, these tools have buttons that automatically release the blade without any wrist movement (on the left weapon, it is just over the pivot screw). This "automatic button" should not be confused with the flipper or thumb stud commonly found on folding knives. Thumbs studs are legal. Folding knives can be legal. Spring loaded buttons are never legal in this city.

Legal! (As long as the blade isn't too long)

If you are worried about losing speed without your West Side Story sidearm, just set aside a little time to practice drawing and flipping your folder. With training, and a good weapon, you can deploy a folding knife almost as fast as you can a switchblade. Some can do it faster. Remember, the weapon does not make the warrior.

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-24
    (d)     No person shall carry or possess with intent to use same unlawfully against another a dagger, dirk, billy, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon.

I saw a UChicago student cut his hand with a butter knife in the cafeteria. Does that make it a 'dangerous knife'? Only in the hands of a UChi! But it goes to show that the courts and police will always have the final say on what qualifies as an illegal and dangerous weapon. This article gives some more specific guidelines that we need to follow if we are to carry a knife.

Daggers are long weapons that have both sharp edges and a sharp tip, specifically those made for combat. Dirks are thrusting weapons with sharpened tips made for stabbing, not slashing. A stiletto is similar to a dirk, except it is often thinner and lacking any edge; it is a long needle for Venetian style assassinations. As to a "billy", this refers to the standard truncheons and billy clubs of law enforcement, the bludgeoning crowd-control weapons of 1968 Chicago and 1950s Alabama. It is illegal to carry any of these in Chicago. Here are some samples below:
(Note on K-Bar: Not all K-Bars are technically daggers, because some have a flat "dead edge" near the grip. The weapon would still be highly illegal for street carrying, however)

From left to right: K-Bar combat knife/dagger, Cold Steel Scottish Dirk, Tonfa style billy club, stiletto
All of these laws have one underlying principle; the law does not want you to carry around a weapon. It wants you to carry around tools. There is one knife that will almost always be legal to carry, but it is also not one you generally think of in self-defense; the pocket knife. Swiss Army folders (so long as the blade is less than 2.5 inches, which most are) are legal because they are tools. They can double as weapons, but so can almost anything. 

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-4 - Disorderly Conduct  
    A person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly:
    (h)     Carries in a threatening or menacing manner, without authority of law, any pistol, revolver, dagger, razor, dangerous knife, stiletto, knuckles, slingshot, an object containing noxious or deleterious liquid, gas or substance or other dangerous weapon, or conceals said weapon on or about the person or vehicle; or
When you openly carry a weapon, you are making some kind of statement. The specifics of that statement might vary depending on your audience and weapon of choice, but you are still saying something. When you have that weapon in Chicago, a liberal, urban area with a serious violence problem, you need to ask yourself questions like this:

1) How will a group of young professionals going out for drinks in Wrigleyville view my weapon?
2) How will a mother and her two 5-year-old daughters riding the Red Line view my weapon?
3) How will an elderly couple on a walk through Lincoln Park view my weapon?

You get the idea. It does not matter if I personally think that carrying a Ka-Bar in my hip sheath is threatening or menacing. It matters only if an average, reasonable bystander thinks it is threatening or menacing. If any of those individuals above feels afraid, I am probably committing disorderly conduct.

Once you face that charge, it is probably rather uncomfortable to go before a jury or judge and  argue your case. "C'mon your honor, it's just a big knife. I have no idea why that little girl and her mom were so scared!" For most average and reasonable citizens, especially those who have no martial experience, there are few things more threatening than a knife in a public space.

As a final note, the phrase "authority of law" does not reference some hidden statute that empowers well-trained martial artists to carry weapons. It means that police officers, soldiers, sheriffs, etc. have the State's authority to bring these tools to the job. We do not.

From a legal perspective, here are the qualifications your knife needs in order for you to avoid jail time in Chicago.
  1. The blade must be 2.5 inches or less.
  2. The knife cannot have an automatic, spring-powered release mechanism or button. 
  3. Stick to folding knives and pocket knives.
  4. Open carry is just disorderly conduct.
Remember, the only time your knife matters is when you use it. Only after you have defended yourself with the weapon are you going to have to justify it to the authorities. Observing these regulations will be the difference between justified self-defense and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Again, I am not a lawyer or in any position to give legal advice. These are just my own observations on Chicago knife laws and my own perspective on the issue. It is a good place to start, but for the final word, seek out a police officer and/or lawyer in your city (especially if you aren't actually from Chicago).