Civics: Redefining Success in Chicago

Rafael A. Mangual:

To hear Emanuel tell it, Chicago is leading the way on both police reform and crime reduction. But his picture of success uses two questionable benchmarks. He concedes that “Chicago is still a long way from the level of public safety we want for every neighborhood,” but claims that, since 2016, “homicides are down 27 percent and shootings are down 32 percent.” These numbers mean less than he suggests. Emanuel forgot to add that 2016 was the year that shootings in Chicago skyrocketed, and the city racked up a staggering 765 homicides—a more than 50 percent increase from the 478 killed in 2015, which itself represented a 16 percent increase from the 411 killed in 2014. Shootings and homicides may be down over the last few years, but they’re down from a huge spike, and they’re still elevated compared with the pre-spike numbers. The city saw more than 530 homicides in 2018—hardly cause for celebration.

The mayor also makes his case by comparing Chicago’s crime numbers over the last two years with those of . . . Baltimore. Not New York. Not Los Angeles. But Baltimore—one of America’s most dangerous, crime-ridden cities. It’s no accident that Emanuel chose this comparison, instead of putting Chicago up against New York and Los Angeles—the Windy City had more murders than New York and L.A. combined last year, though it is the smallest of the three cities.

Beating out Baltimore in crime reduction is not exactly a coup. And make no mistake: while Chicago benefits from a densely populated North Side with low crime numbers, areas on the city’s South and West Sides don’t look so different from Baltimore when it comes to aggregate population and crime numbers. The neighborhoods in which Chicago’s serious violent crime is concentrated are among the worst in the nation.