Why Are There So Many Murders in Chicago?


After over 500 murders in Chicago in 2012, the Windy City’s violence epidemic continues – 2013 saw the deadliest January in over a decade – and continues to make national news.  The New York Times, for example, ran a recent piece noting how Chicago’s strict gun laws can’t stem the tide of violence.

The NYT piece predictably spurred much debate over gun policy, but that distracts from the real question: why exactly does Chicago have so many murders?  Chicago had 512 murders in 2012. New York City – with three times Chicago’s population – had only 418 murders, the lowest since record keeping began in the 1960s.  Los Angeles, with over a million more people than Chicago, had only 298 murders.  These other cities can’t be accused of lax gun laws or somehow being immune to guns being brought in illegally from more lenient jurisdictions. So what’s different about Chicago?

It’s impossible to say for certain what is causing Chicago’s unique murder problem, but a few possibilities suggest themselves.

  1. The number of police officers.  Depending on the report, Chicago’s police department is about 1,000 officers short of authorized strength and is facing a large number of looming retirements while few new recruits are brought in due to budget constraints. This clearly has had an impact. However, NYPD has also seen a decline in the number of officers without this effect.
  1. Police tactics. New York has made headlines with controversial, but apparently effective, tactics like the so-called “stop and frisk” policy.  The city hasn’t hesitated to defend these, even in the face of enormous negative press and lawsuits. Los Angeles has made huge strides in moving past its Detective Mark Furhman era reputation to build bridges to minority communities while Chicago has spent years and millions of dollars ignoring and defending officers who used torture to extract confessions. New York and Los Angeles also have more experience with statistically driven policing than Chicago.
  1. Politically controlled policing.  Mayor Daley hired Jody Weis from the FBI as police superintendent, but neutered his ability to run the department by assigning a political operative as Weis’ chief of staff.  Similarly, Rahm Emanuel, a fan of centralized control, has been heavily involved in driving major decisions like disbanding the anti-gang strike forces. It’s not clear whether police decisions have been driven by purely professional crime fighting concerns or, as in likely given the city’s culture, political considerations.
  1. William Bratton. Both New York and Los Angeles saw the start of their major successes against crime under the leadership of William Bratton. Los Angeles in particular was extremely smart to go hire him after his success in New York. While other cities have experienced murder declines, often with similar strategies, they are not places of the same scale, demographic diversity and political complexity of New York and LA. Perhaps Chicago should have spent whatever it took to get Bratton as police superintendent, though whether Bratton would have been willing to come into a place with such a history of political meddling with the police is uncertain.
  1. Gang fragmentation. Local and federal officials had great success taking out the leadership of many of the city’s gangs. The result has been significant gang fragmentation and a lack of hierarchical control over the rank and file that some have blamed for contributing to the violence epidemic.
  1. Depopulation. Few analyses of Chicago’s murder problem focus on the city’s very poor demographic performance.  New York City and Los Angeles are at all time population highs. Other urban areas like Boston and Washington, DC have started rebounding from population losses. However, Chicago lost a stunning 200,000 people in the 2000s and now has a population rolled back to levels not seen since 1910.  Loss of population in many neighborhoods has had many pernicious effects, including a loss of social capital (notably middle class families), loss of businesses due to loss of customers, and a diminished tax base.  It’s hard to maintain social cohesion in the face of both extreme poverty and population decline.  Similarly, the Chicago region had the worst jobs performance of any large metro in the US during the 2000s, which couldn’t have helped.
  1. Public housing demolitions. Chicago’s high rise projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes were yesterday’s national shame as hotbeds of crime and the killing of youths. Chicago was one of the most aggressive demolishers of these, with all of the high rises effectively destroyed. While this perhaps reduced localized crime, it destroyed the only homes many people had ever known, and, like depopulation, destroyed significant social capital and possibly simply redistributed and dispersed crime, as some research in other cities has suggested.  New York’s public housing is hardly problem free, but NYC  took a very different approach, investing in the high-rises rather than destroying them.  It’s hard not to speculate on what this has meant to the trajectory of crime in those two cities.

Whatever the actual answer may be, Chicago’s murder epidemic continues to ravage families and neighborhoods. Given the results in January, it would appear the city is no nearer to getting a handle on it than it was a year ago. A reconsideration of the differences between Chicago and other large cities, and a resulting adjustment in strategy, would seem to be long overdue.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile.

Chicago photo by Bigstock.

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That was my whole point: New

That was my whole point: New York and Chicago have broadly comparable gun laws and flows of illegal weapons, hence gun laws can't be the answer in Chicago.

No they do not....

In New York if you are caught with an illegal firearm it's a 3 year mandatory sentence. In Chicago, it's 6 months, but more likely 2 months.

I do wish you were more through in your research.

You are beginning to sound like you are from the local chapter of the NRA.

Ah, so tougher sentences DO work?

Ah, so tougher sentences DO work?

Presumably tougher sentences for robbery, arson, vandalism, assault, rape, murder etc might work too?

Typical liberal; as Margaret Thatcher said, "the facts of life are conservative", but liberals like to pick and choose when they will acknowledge or apply any one particular reality.

When I point out that liberals like porous borders for illegal immigrants yet deny that the same porous borders might also be helpful for gun-runners, all you can do is call me "creepy".

Score 3 nil to Aaron Renn so far

Exactly, there are obvious differences in OTHER law and order policies between NY and Chicago that have to be the explanation.

It's a values issue

Politics vs Values
I agree. And perhaps, policy's role, or the route politicians prefer to take, may be less relevant then people think. People tend to think that politics and the political environment determine morality, but very often, politics is just the final expression of a communities morality, not the mere cause of it. And granted, even then, it is not fully a clear picture because if the bad can do more bad then the good can do good, then it matters not the numbers of decent people who live there, if the power of the bad to inject a climate of fear and violence is even greater. And if that understanding is given greater weight, then I think people will care less about numbers of cops on the streets, and care more what the police and the city are doing to tackle the culture that very often produces these things.

Hipsters Don't Kill
There is no rise in hipster driveby's, if they exist at all. And almost all poor hipsters - college students who are barely getting by, but love city life too much to go back home to their parents or move to somewhere more affordable - do not kill people. Their values are humanistic, they believe in the greater potentials of humanity, and thus, do not want to rob anyone else of living out a meaningful life, or reaching their greatest potential. As I've said before, you can dump all the firearms in the US in Scandinavia, and what you will have is them, taking something antithetical to their to their values, and repurposing it for something more moral, like melting them down to make Ikea furniture with, building sustainable housing out of, or making progressive art installations from. You won't see an immense rise in gun violence. And it isn't the state's policies against the sale and distribution of arms that bar scandinavians from being animals, and immorally taking the life of others. It's a values issue.

It is everyone's problem.
When I observe Gulliani and Bloomberg's approach, it seems it was far more interested in destroying the culture that breeds instability, and diminishes the vital social trust, not just in government, but in your neighbors and those in the greater city at large. For so long, many of the helpless residents felt, and rightly so, that these are "OUR" problems, because of city hall and the society at large's reaction to the problems of inner city poverty. But what Gulliani and Bloomberg did was give a gesture that it is everyone's problem if those within these areas do not have greater chances of upward mobility, increased health, more education, and without fear of being robbed, raped, or murdered. This is a lesson that California has yet to learn with regards to the large hispanic population it holds.

It takes a village, not just a government acting in the name of the collective, to address these issues. And that is very difficult to do without being branded as a racist, a xenophobe, a bigot, or some other epithet. But people affect each other more then institutions acting on behalf of a group or society ever could, and if people understood the social dynamics of a society, and gave greater weight to the importance of the web of relationships that constructs a society, you will see many of the reinforcing mechanisms that trap people in generations of poverty diminish. Gentrification helps, so does evangelizing humanistic values that don't offend religious ones, getting to the youth early on, questioning the iconography in vogue that reinforces many of the attitudes that creates many of these problems in the first place, and a whole host of other things. But the most important thing of all may be every citizen in a society, in some meaningful way, sharing publicly their disapproval. And not merely excusing it as a material or political failure, because for every example where one cites material inequality and the political climate as the source of these social ills, there are a great number of similar societies and cities that are the exception.

Daniel Greenfield: Gun Problem or Gang Problem?

"America Doesn’t Have a Gun Problem, It Has a Gang Problem"

By Daniel Greenfield


"Chicago’s murder rate has hit that magic 500 number. Baltimore’s murder rate has passed 200. In Philly, it’s up to 324, the highest since 2007. In Detroit, it’s approaching 400, another record. In New Orleans, it’s almost at 200. New York City is down to 414 from 508. In Los Angeles, it’s over 500. In St. Louis it’s 113 and 130 in Oakland. It’s 121 in Memphis and 76 in Birmingham.

Washington, D.C., home of the boys and girls who can solve it all, is nearing its own big 100.

Those 12 cities alone account for nearly 3,200 dead and nearly a quarter of all murders in the United States. And we haven’t even visited sunny Atlanta or chilly Cleveland.

These cities are the heartland of America’s real gun culture. It isn’t the bitter gun-and-bible clingers in McCain and Romney territory who are racking up a more horrifying annual kill rate than Al Qaeda; it’s Obama’s own voting base......

".....Chicago’s murder rate of 15.65 per 100,000 people looks nothing like the American 4.2 rate, the Midwestern 4.5 or the Illinois’ 5.6 rates, but it does look like the murder rates in failed countries like Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. To achieve Chicago’s murder rate, African countries usually have to experience a bloody genocidal civil war or decades of tyranny.

But Chicago isn’t even all that unique. Or the worst case scenario. That would be New Orleans which at an incredible 72.8 murder rate is ten times higher than the national average. If New Orleans were a country, it would have the 2nd highest murder rate in the world, beating out El Salvador.

Louisiana went red for Romney 58 to 40, but Orleans Parish went blue for Obama 80 to 17.

St. Louis has a murder rate just a little lower than Belize. Baltimore has a worse murder rate than South Africa and Detroit has a worse murder rate than Colombia. Obama won both St. Louis and Baltimore by comfortable margins. He won Detroit’s Wayne County 73 to 26.

Homicide rates like these show that something is broken, but it isn’t broken among the Romney voters rushing to stock up on assault rifles every time Obama begins threatening their right to buy them; it’s broken among Obama’s base.

Any serious conversation about gun violence and gun culture has to begin at home; in Chicago, in Baltimore, in New York City, in Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C.

Voting for Obama does not make people innately homicidal. Just look at Seattle which is agonizing over its 26 murders. That’s about the same number of murders as East St. Louis which has only 27,000 people to Seattle’s 620,000.

So what is happening in Chicago to drive it to the gates of hell ahead of Zimbabwe and Rwanda?

A breakdown of the Chicago killing fields shows that 83% of those murdered in Chicago last year had criminal records. In Philly, it’s 75%. In Milwaukee it’s 77% percent. In New Orleans, it’s 64%. In Baltimore, it’s 91%. Many were felons who had served time. And as many as 80% of the homicides were gang related.

Chicago’s problem isn’t guns; it’s gangs. Gun control efforts in Chicago or any other major city are doomed because gangs represent organized crime networks which stretch down to Mexico, and trying to cut off their gun supply will be as effective as trying to cut off their drug supply.

America’s murder rate isn’t the work of the suburban and rural homeowners who shop for guns at sporting goods stores and at gun shows, and whom news shows profile after every shooting, but by the gangs embedded in the urban areas controlled by the Democratic machine. The gangs who drive up America’s murder rate look nothing like the occasional mentally ill suburban white kid who goes off his medication and decides to shoot up a school. Lanza, like most serial killers, is a media aberration, not the norm.

National murder statistics show that blacks are far more likely to be killers than whites and they are also far more likely to be killed. The single largest cause of homicides is the argument. 4th on the list is juvenile gang activity with 676 murders, which combined with various flavors of gangland killings takes us nearly to the 1,000 mark. America has more gangland murders than Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Puerto Rico have murders.

Our national murder rate is not some incomprehensible mystery that can only be attributed to the inanimate tools, the steel, brass and wood that do the work. It is largely the work of adult males from age 18 to 39 with criminal records killing other males of that same age and criminal past.

If this were going on in Rwanda, El Salvador or Sierra Leone, we would have no trouble knowing what to make of it, and silly pearl-clutching nonsense about gun control would never even come up. But this is Chicago, it’s Baltimore, it’s Philly and NOLA; and so we refuse to see that our major cities are in the same boat as some of the worst trouble spots in the world.

Lanza and Newtown are comforting aberrations. They allow us to take refuge in the fantasy that homicides in America are the work of the occasional serial killer practicing his dark art in one of those perfect small towns that always show up in murder mysteries or Stephen King novels. They fool us into thinking that there is something American about our murder rate that can be traced to hunting season, patriotism and bad mothers.

But go to Chicago or Baltimore. Go where the killings really happen and the illusion comes apart.

There is a war going on in America between gangs of young men who bear an uncanny resemblance to their counterparts in Sierra Leone or El Salvador. They live like them, they fight for control of the streets like them and they kill like them.

America’s horrific murder rate is a result of the transformation of major American cities into Sierra Leone, Somalia, Rwanda and El Salvador. Our murder rate now largely consists of criminals killing criminals.

As David Kennedy, the head of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, put it, “The majority of homicide victims have extensive criminal histories. This is simply the way that the world of criminal homicide works. It’s a fact.”

America is, on a county by county basis, not a violent country, just as it, on a county by county basis, did not vote for Obama. It is being dragged down by broken cities full of broken families whose mayors would like to trash the Bill of Rights for the entire country in the vain hope that national gun control will save their cities, even though gun control is likely to be as much help to Chicago or New Orleans as the War on Drugs.

Obama’s pretense that there needs to be a national conversation about rural American gun owners is a dishonest and cynical ploy that distracts attention from the real problem that he and politicians like him have sat on for generations.

We do not need to have a conversation about the NRA. We need to have a conversation about Chicago."

When in gangland, take protective measures

Under these conditions, it is no wonder that many Americans feel quite strongly that they should be allowed to own guns for their own protection.


And this "comment" on the thread linked above, is interesting; one never sees this sort of info in the "mainstream" media:

"......Every month in American Rifleman magazine, there is a whole page with 6-10 similar stories taken from newspapers all over the country. It's my favorite part of the magazine. So, say, 6 per month times 12 months per year times 10 years so far equals 720 published accounts of people defending themselves with guns from criminals......"

Heather MacDonald: Courts versus Cops

"Courts v. Cops"

By Heather MacDonald


Here is an excerpt from the last 2 paragraphs:

"......No police department in the country has come close to achieving what the NYPD has. New York's crime drop has been twice as deep and has lasted twice as long as the national average since the early 1990s. Today, 10,000 minority males are alive who would have been killed by now had New York's homicide rate remained at its early-1990s levels. If crime starts climbing again because New York officers can no longer make proactive stops, the increase will — for a while, at least — be just an abstraction for the wealthy attorneys at Shearman & Sterling (and for those at Covington & Burling and Paul, Weiss, who are providing pro bono assistance in the other two stop suits). For people without private doormen and Hamptons retreats, however, any rise in shootings and robberies will be immediate and quite real.

Yes, being stopped and questioned when innocent of wrongdoing can be humiliating and infuriating, though the stop is legal. The NYPD must constantly reinforce its officers' duty to treat the people they stop with respect. But until an equally effective alternative to proactive policing is found — and to date, none has been — residents of high-crime neighborhoods face a blunt choice between an elevated risk of getting stopped and an elevated risk of getting shot......"

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