Success not all it seems, citywide data show improvement but some neighborhoods disenfranchised for decades have paid price
Chicago anticipates a substantial double-digit decline in homicides for 2023, presenting a positive development for the newly inaugurated mayor and the recently appointed police superintendent. However, a meticulous examination of police data by the Tribune reveals that beneath the overall improvement lie complexities, particularly impacting neighborhoods historically burdened by disenfranchisement.
An in-depth scrutiny of Chicago Police Department data at the district level exposes an unsettling trend—killings have either risen or stagnated in numerous neighborhoods grappling with deep-rooted violence issues. This phenomenon might be attributed to the simultaneous decrease in fatal and nonfatal shootings, coupled with a significant surge in armed robberies and carjackings citywide. Consequently, police resources have been redirected to address this surge, sometimes at the expense of more distressed areas.
The Chicago Lawn District on the Southwest Side stands out, experiencing a substantial year-over-year surge in fatal violence. The Chicago Police Department reports a 29% increase in slayings, totaling 31 in the district for 2023. Jason Huff, a councilor in the Chicago Lawn police district, attributes the spike in killings to temporary officer reassignments to other city areas. The district's size compounds the challenge, prompting discussions about potentially splitting the Chicago Lawn District into two entities.
While establishing a direct correlation between police staffing levels and citywide homicides proves challenging, specific instances highlight notable trends. Data from the Office of Inspector General indicates that the Englewood (7th) and Austin (15th) districts, witnessing a surge in killings, have fewer officers compared to December 2022. Conversely, districts on the North and Northwest sides, where homicides decreased, saw additional officer deployments. However, causation is not universally evident, as districts with lower 2023 homicide totals have witnessed a slight uptick in patrol officers, according to OIG data.
The Harrison District (11th), historically Chicago's most violent, illustrates the complexity. Despite an increase in homicides from 72 in late November 2022 to 73 in 2023, officer numbers have risen from 353 to 361. Similarly, the Englewood District, Superintendent Larry Snelling's birthplace, saw an 8% increase in killings, with the Grand Crossing District (3rd) in South Shore recording an 18% rise. The Austin District on the West Side witnessed a consistent number of killings compared to late November 2022.
In response to the data review, police officials emphasize overall successes. Declines in killings are notable in CPD districts covering various areas. The department underscores progress in decreasing shooting victims, incidents, and homicides throughout the city, emphasizing ongoing efforts to tailor public safety strategies to individual neighborhoods.
Discussions on potential changes in police deployment strategies include the consideration of ending "tiered deployment," a controversial tactic aimed at combating violence. Superintendent Snelling highlights the elimination of this tactic to ensure officers receive scheduled days off, acknowledging the importance of addressing vicarious trauma faced by officers.
Despite a reduction in homicides, Mayor Brandon Johnson faces persistent crime challenges, with armed robbery sprees impacting neighborhoods unaccustomed to such criminal activities. The Wentworth District (2nd) notes a significant drop in homicides, yet the perception of safety lags behind. Concerns about motor vehicle thefts rising by more than half contribute to a distorted narrative about crime in the city.
Councilor Julia Kline advocates for a resource that visually represents the number of people moving through neighborhoods without experiencing crime. Such an initiative, she believes, could counteract exaggerated fears of safety issues. Mayor Johnson's budget proposal reflects a shift away from merely increasing police manpower, eliminating over 800 vacant street cop positions while creating nearly 400 new civilian positions to enhance street patrols.
Superintendent Snelling reports the hiring of over 660 officers in 2023, but approximately 400 officer positions remain vacant. Homicide detectives have initiated 569 murder investigations in 2023, marking a 12% decrease from the previous year. Cook County's medical examiner's office records 599 homicides in Chicago as of Nov. 27, a drop from 692 during the same period in the preceding year.
The decline in killings resonates across Chicago, from the Jefferson Park District (16th) on the Northwest Side to the Morgan Park District (22nd) on the Far South Side. Nonfatal shooting incidents have decreased by 13% this year. However, in the Grand Central District (25th), homicides have surged by half, prompting a call for enhanced community collaboration to address the diverse needs of the district.
The Southwest Organizing Project, established in 1996 and part of Communities Partnering 4 Peace, engages in violence prevention across multiple neighborhoods. Their approach includes connecting program participants with job training, education, and immigration resources. After instances of gun violence, SWOP outreach workers actively visit affected areas, offering mentoring services and addressing the root causes of violence.