Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chicago Crime: 1 dead, 11 wounded

In the past few weeks, Garry McCarthy and the CPD have launched a series of new strategies to reduce Chicago gun violence. This included assigning 200 officers to patrol targeted "hot spot" areas, directing officers to arrest and ticket for minor violations (i.e. "broken windows" policing), setting up drop-boxes to encourage anonymous tips, and now deploying freshly trained officers to foot patrols in high-crime beats. This has led some police officers to call the start of the week "new strategy Monday", and to be sure, Superintendent McCarthy has become somewhat infamous for unveiling a new strategy multiple times in a month.

But in McCarthy's defense, it looked like his strategies might be working. February saw the lowest number of homicides since the 1950s, with only 12 murders across the city (shootings were also quite low at 60, the lowest in decades). March promised to follow the February trend; with only 4 days left in the month, the writers at RedEye found that there were only 12 homicides for March, 2013, a remarkable improvement from the 54 of March, 2012.

And then came this Friday. 1 dead, 11 wounded, and a very inauspicious start to what promises to be a warm weekend. Gun violence happened across the city, both in targeted districts and in hot spot beats. It also occurred in traditionally low-crime neighbohoods like Logan Square. While it is too early to call a trend, I am certainly worried (although likely not as worried as Garry).

February and March have, so far, been remarkable in their enduring cold, snow, and rain. We had a blizzard in early March, and it hasn't risen above 30 in weeks. Friday saw temperatures hit the high 40s; most of my friends went for walks, and it looks like criminals did the same. This calls into question the effectiveness of McCarthy's February and March strategies. Did policing prevent crime? Or was it just the thermometer?

Weather is a recurring theme in Chicago crime. McCarthy correctly states that warm weather does not cause crime, but it's certainly correlated. As a possible mediating mechanism, warm weather means more people outside on the streets. This means more interpersonal contact and conflict in impoverished neighborhoods, which can lead to more violence. Indeed, March 2012 saw unseasonably warm weekends in March, which drove up our homicides to a whopping 54 in a month that often sees fewer than 40. So far, 2013 has seen colder weather in these last months (incidentally, January was warmer and tracked a lot more homicides than in past years). With the cold breaking for spring, the worry is that crime will continue to spike along with the mercury.

The rest of this weekend, not to mention the coming weeks of April, will give us some idea of how the summer will look. Perhaps McCarthy's strategies will kick in and keep violence down. Or perhaps the warm weather will continue to drive up crime in spite of policing efforts. We will check back in at the end of the weekend.

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