Chicago Sun-Times

Time for city to do some soul- search­ing

- BY ROSEANNA ANDER, MAX KAPUSTIN, JENS LUD­WIG, JULIA QUINN AND KIM­BER­LEY SMITH Society · New York City · York City F.C. · New York County, NY · University of Chicago · United States of America · Chicago Police Department · Baltimore · Detroit · St Louis · University of Chicago Crime Lab

Chicago’s surge in gun vi­o­lence in 2016 forces us to con­front the ques­tion: What sort of city do we want to be?

Last year in Chicago, 764 peo­ple were mur­dered, 279 more than in 2015. To put this into per­spec­tive, 335 peo­ple were mur­dered last year in New York City, a city that has a pop­u­la­tion nearly three times ours.

As noted in a re­port this month by our re­search team at the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Crime Lab, nearly four of ev­ery five homi­cide vic­tims in 2016 was African- Amer­i­can. This is in a city in which about one- third of all res­i­dents are African- Amer­i­can. Most vic­tims also live in the city’s most eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged neigh­bor­hoods, lo­cated on the south and west sides.

In the last sev­eral years in the United States, we have wit­nessed a grow­ing con­cern about in­come in­equal­ity. Does Chicago want to be a city that tol­er­ates ex­treme in­equal­ity in some­thing even more fundamenta­l — safety?

Un­for­tu­nately, not every­one will be moved by this un­fair­ness and hu­man tragedy; they may con­clude that be­cause their own neigh­bor­hoods are safe this is not their prob­lem. Even set­ting aside the trou­bling moral im­pli­ca­tions of that per­spec­tive, it is wrong on its own self- in­ter­ested terms. One rea­son cities across the coun­try have thrived since the early 1990s is be­cause vi­o­lent crime rates have de­clined sub­stan­tially. The in­crease in homi­cides we have seen in Chicago in the past two years has un­done about two- thirds of the long- term drop in crime the city has ex­pe­ri­enced over the past 25 years.

As Chicago thinks about what to do, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand first exactly what hap­pened. The in­crease in gun vi­o­lence from 2015 to 2016 was much larger than for other crimes, and the surge came sud­denly. As late as De­cem­ber 2015, there was no sign of what was to come. But the num­ber of homi­cides in Jan­uary 2016 was fully 67 per­cent higher than in Jan­uary the year be­fore, and the mur­der count con­tin­ued to run higher al­most ev­ery month of the year.

Exactly why gun vi­o­lence in­creased so sharply in Chicago is not yet clear. The sud­den­ness of the in­crease helps rule out as a cause many fac­tors that have not changed over time, or have changed only slowly, such as the distance to states with more lax gun laws, how the court sys­tem han­dles gun of­fenses, and so­cial prob­lems like poverty and racial seg­re­ga­tion. Nor were there abrupt changes in weather, or in the city’s spend­ing on schools or so­cial ser­vices. This is not to say these is­sues are unim­por­tant, but they do not ex­plain why gun vi­o­lence rates in­creased so sharply right at the end of 2015.

While the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem also is not to­tally clear, we can say with con­fi­dence that re­duc­ing vi­o­lence will re­quire in­vest­ing more money than many peo­ple would ap­pre­ci­ate. For ex­am­ple, for un­der­stand­able rea­sons there is great in­ter­est in try­ing to find ways to use so­cial pro­grams to re­duce vi­o­lence while, at the same time, im­prov­ing peo­ple’s long- term prospects for school­ing and jobs.

While there are “only” a few thou­sand gun vi­o­lence of­fend­ers at any given time liv­ing in our city of 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple at any given time, even the best ef­forts to iden­tify them in ad­vance will yield a list num­ber­ing in the tens of thou­sands ( if not more) to pri­or­i­tize for so­cial ser­vices.

Even the very best ef­forts to iden­tify who they are in ad­vance, be­fore they com­mit a ter­ri­ble crime, is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. The best list we might hope to com­pile, in order to di­rect so­cial ser­vices most ef­fec­tively, still would in­clude tens of thou­sands of peo­ple.

This means the so­cial pro­gram in­vest­ment re­quired to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce gun vi­o­lence in Chicago will re­quire many tens of mil­lions ( if not hun­dreds of mil­lions) of ad­di­tional dol­lars in sup­port.

Sim­i­larly sig­nif­i­cant re­sources will be re­quired to change the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment. The ex­tent to which changes in Chicago Po­lice prac­tices in 2016 con­trib­uted to Chicago’s in­crease in gun vi­o­lence is not clear. The most dra­matic change in any mea­sure of po­lice pro­duc­tiv­ity was in street stops, which de­clined by about 80 per­cent be­tween Novem­ber 2015 and Jan­uary 2016. The tim­ing fits with when gun vi­o­lence be­gan to in­crease so sharply in Chicago. But for that to be the cause, we would need some ex­pla­na­tion for why New York City dra­mat­i­cally re­duced the num­ber of street stops sev­eral years ago with­out a cor­re­spond­ing in­crease in homi­cides.

While we do not know to what de­gree changes at CPD were a fac­tor in the in­crease in shoot­ings in 2016, we do have rea­son to be­lieve the po­lice could be more ef­fec­tive in pre­vent­ing crime. In the early 1990s, Chicago and New York City had nearly iden­ti­cal homi­cide rates. While Chicago’s homi­cide rate de­clined by half be­fore in­creas­ing again more re­cently, New York ex­pe­ri­enced a sus­tained de­crease in its mur­der rate of al­most 90 per­cent, with a si­mul­ta­ne­ous de­crease in its in­car­cer­a­tion rate. Most ex­perts be­lieve that a va­ri­ety of polic­ing changes were re­spon­si­ble for a large part of that drop, in­clud­ing big in­creases in the num­ber of po­lice, and world- class train­ing for both new and ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cers. The cost of these changes in Chicago could eas­ily reach into the mil­lions or tens of mil­lions of dol­lars.

There is no magic wand to wave to end Chicago’s gun vi­o­lence cri­sis. The ques­tion is whether Chicago will make the in­vest­ments nec­es­sary to ad­dress this prob­lem. The ques­tion, that is to say, is whether Chicago will fol­low in the foot­steps of New York or go the way of strug­gling cities such as Bal­ti­more, Detroit and St. Louis that suf­fer from even higher mur­der rates than Chicago — for now.

Roseanna Ander is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Crime Lab. Max Kapustin is re­search di­rec­tor at the Crime Lab. Jens Lud­wig is fac­ulty di­rec­tor. Julia Quinn is as­so­ciate di­rec­tor. Kim­ber­ley Smith is re­search man­ager.

We can say with con­fi­dence that re­duc­ing vi­o­lence will re­quire in­vest­ing more money than many peo­ple would ap­pre­ci­ate.

 ?? ASHLEE REZIN/ SUN- TIMES ?? Dur­ing a New Year’s Eve anti- vi­o­lence rally on Michigan Av­enue, Latekia Sims car­ries a cross to honor her boyfriend, To­mas Smith, who was shot to death in En­gle­wood in Novem­ber.
ASHLEE REZIN/ SUN- TIMES Dur­ing a New Year’s Eve anti- vi­o­lence rally on Michigan Av­enue, Latekia Sims car­ries a cross to honor her boyfriend, To­mas Smith, who was shot to death in En­gle­wood in Novem­ber.

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