There is a lot of discussion right now about the number of shootings in Chicago over the 4th of July weekend. As the Chicago Tribune notes:
The solution to the Washington Post yesterday is more gun control laws.
When something like Chicago happens, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America told us, the National Rifle Association conditions Americans to think there is nothing they can do. “Our message,” she said, “is that they can use their voice, their vote, their wallet,” and they can make a difference.
Well, despite the desire for many to make everything about gun control, this discussion ignores the important role of the police. Of course, the regulations on guns that are being proposed will make crime worse, not better. Focusing on guns is just a way for local politicians in Chicago to deflect responsibility for what is happening onto others.
Remember Rahm Emanuel’s campaign promise to put more police on the street when he was elected in early 2011? The Huffington Post reminds us:
Rahm Emanuel campaigned for Chicago mayor on a promise of putting 1,000 more police officers on the city’s streets. Now, the man Emanuel picked to be the top cop for the nation’s third-largest city says the mayor has told him to slash $190 million from his budget – something people both inside and outside the department say can’t be done without layoffs.
It would also likely be the largest cut for any police department in the U.S. during the nation’s fiscal crisis.
“I don’t see how you’re going to (avoid layoffs),” said Robert Weisskopf, the president of the Chicago police lieutenants union. “They’ve already laid off civilian employees, laid off everybody they can and now we’re to the point where watch secretaries (sworn officers) are going out to buy office supplies.” . . . .
First Mayor Rahm Emanuel cuts the number of police officers. Here is data from the FBI’s UCR:
The number of police detectives that solve crimes also fell from 1,100 in 2010, the year before Emanuel became mayor, to 924 in 2012 — that is a 16 percent drop in just two years.
Even worse, under Emanuel police were moved to unfamiliar neighborhoods, losing years of knowledge in dealing with informants and other contacts. As a great website entitled Second City Cop, which is run by a Chicago cop, explains:
The article explains in detail how Detective Areas were closed, manpower scattered across unfamiliar neighborhoods, and a complete lack of promoting detectives hamstrung the D-unit over the course of years. J-Fled is quoted along with Tommy Byrne (he loves the reorganization by the way) and numerous anonymous detectives. We haven’t heard the clearance rate this year, but we’re sure anything above 30% will be touted as brilliant planning by McConsolidation and his staff. . . .
Page 3 of the Chicago magazine article shows the meat of the problem, with the map and discussion clearly showing they moved where detectives are stationed further away from crime spots.
As you may recall, a few months after Garry McCarthy arrived as the top cop in Chicago in July 2011, he said that Emanuel had asked him to cut $190 million from the department’s $1.3 billion annual budget. So the first two years of McCarthy’s tenure have been all about doing more with less.
The sweeping consolidation plan that he announced in March 2012 eliminated three of Chicago’s 25 police districts, closed two of its five detective headquarters (Area 4, which spanned the Near West Side and included downtown, and Area 5, which stretched from the Far Northwest Side to the Far Southwest Side), and transferred 300-plus detectives to other bureaus. The changes would save as much as $12 million, McCarthy said.
Unfortunately, the consolidation heaped still more pressure on homicide detectives, who were already struggling to keep up with bigger caseloads. Except for those detectives working in Area South (the police territory that covers roughly the southern third of the city), the realignment (and subsequent renaming) nearly doubled the area that many of them have to cover (see “Going the Distance,” right).
There are two big drawbacks here. One is that more detectives are working in neighborhoods they’re not yet familiar with. “All the expertise you once had is useless when you’re working on the other side of town,” says a detective from Area Central. “You might as well put me in a new city.”
Another big drawback to consolidation is that detectives find themselves farther away from crime scenes, sometimes by a dozen or more miles. Getting to the scene fast is crucial in any homicide investigation: Witnesses may scatter or fall victim to gang intimidation. Evidence may get trampled, tampered with, or blown away. Distance continues to be a problem later, when detectives must conduct follow-up interviews or track new witnesses in other parts of town. Says a former police official: “For every hour the detective spends in the car, that’s all time lost to the investigation.” . . . .
Street officers have also informed me that reassignment of officers has paralleled these changes for detectives. As with detectives, moving officers to less familiar areas loses valuable experience.
Now note the incredibly low clearance rate in 2012 for these high crime areas. The Chicago Magazine story makes it clear that while murder clearance rates fell city wide under Emanuel, the drops were particularly large in the most violent neighborhoods where the police were being moved out of.
Then because of the resulting increase in crime he has to give the existing officers expensive over time. PoliceOne.com has this note:
Hundreds of Chicago police officers are hitting the streets on overtime every night in dangerous neighborhoods, the latest tactic by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to reduce killings in a city dogged by its homicide rate and heartbreaking stories about honor students and small children caught in the crossfire. . . .
If it continues, the tactic would cost millions of dollars each month — putting the one initiate on pace to exceed the department’s entire overtime budget by fall.
At least it isn’t too surprising that more police officers mean less crime. Emanuel kept promising to hire more police in 2012, but as shown above the opposite continued to occur. From the Sun Times:
Under fire to reverse a surge in homicides that spiked 66 percent in March, Emanuel has promised to hire 450 officers by Dec. 31  and 500 officers next year to reach an authorized strength of 12,538 officers.
But Shields said the city could be hard-pressed to keep pace with the number of officers walking out the door. . . .
To put it another way, with the cut in the number of police and moving them to lower crime areas and losing all that experience, the outcome was hardly surprising: “Only 132 of the 507 murder cases in the city last year were closed last year. That makes for a homicide clearance rate of 26 percent—the lowest in two decades, according to internal police records provided to Chicago.” Note that in 2010 the clearance rate was 39 percent and in 2011 it was 34 percent.
Here is the big money quote: “Last year’s department-wide consolidation and reorganization, initiated by Superintendent Garry McCarthy, has made a bad situation even worse. As one South Side detective put it: ‘It’s a perfect storm of shit.’”
Additional Information: After clearance rates plummeted and crime rates soared in 2012, Rahm Emanuel held a press conference talking about reassigning 200 officers to patrol. The Chicago Tribune uncritically reports Emanuel’s proposal on January 31, 2013:
Following a deadly start to the year that included the murder of 15-year-old band majorette Hadiya Pendleton, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced today that 200 police officers will be reassigned to patrol work.
The officers, who had been performing administrative duties will be replaced by civilians, according to an announcement from the mayor’s office. The first officers will be reassigned this weekend and the changes are expected to be completed by the end of March, city officials said. . . .
According to Second City Cop, the Chicago FOP called this: “more smoke and mirrors” and “policing by press conference.” Rather than actually adding 200 officers this was just going to be part of the 500 new officers that city had already promised to add to offset the 500+ retirees. Amazingly neither the Chicago Tribune nor the Chicago Sun Times articles on Emanuel’s announcement interview the FOP for their reaction.
But after cutting back on the number of police, even Chicago politicians realized that had been a mistake. But their short term solution was to massively increase overtime hours for existing police officers. In 2013, some $103 million was spent on overtime, burning through two-thirds of their $32 million overtime budget in just their first three months of the year. The official number of murders then declined to 415, though there are some real issues of how much of that decline was due to corruption and falsifying the numbers. Despite the decline in Chicago murders, the city still had more murders than more populous cities — New York and Los Angeles. LA had 298 murders in 2012 and about 250 in 2013. New York had 414 murders in 2012 and 333 in 2013.
Admittedly, like many other cities, Chicago faced budget problems in 2011. But Emanuel decided to cut the police budget to fund his pet projects, like a new $20 million slush fund that Emanuel can use as wants. While Emanuel cut overall total city spending by $75 million, he asked the police slash their budget by $190 million. The cuts in police spending and elimination of their jobs financed infrastructure projects that aren’t valued for what the projects build but “most importantly . . . [aimed at] creating 18,000 jobs over the next 10 years.” The Keynesian notion that government spending creates new jobs ignores the simple fact that the money has to come from some place. The infrastructure projects should only be funded if they make financial sense by themselves, not because they create jobs.
UPDATE: During the time that Richard M. Daley was mayor, there was a very consistent decline in clearance rates for homicides. Daley was mayor from 1989 to 2011. Under Rahm the rate fell slightly during the beginning of his term and then recovered.
About the murder clearances, the department calculates the rate two ways. The simple way accounts only for cases closed in the same calendar year in which the murder took place. By that gauge, the police cleared 28.7 percent of last year’s murders. The other calculation — the one preferred by the city — includes clearances of murders committed in previous years, leading to a 2014 rate of 51.8 percent. By either measure, the city’s clearance rate is near its lowest level in decades. Chicago’s also doing poorly compared to other big cities, according to FBI clearance figures for 2013, the most recent year available. . . . .
The clearance rate that accounts only for cases closed in the same calendar year in which the murder took place has continued to fall.
2014 — 28 percent
2015 — 25 percent
2016 — 20 percent