The Policy Shop: Chicago’s youth violence problem
This edition of The Policy Shop comes to you from policy adviser Paul Vallas and writer Patrick Andriesen.
Happy Wednesday. Today we’ll be looking at gun violence in Chicago and the spike in youth crime, trying to understand what’s really going on.
Chicago’s gun problem. Shootings in Chicago in 2022 were up by nearly one-third compared with 2019, with 868 more Chicagoans suffering as victims of gun violence. Shootings dropped from the 2021 total.
Chicago Police Department annual reports show shootings in 2022 continued to persist above 2019 totals, the last year before COVID-19 pandemic tensions ushered in two of the city’s deadliest years in the past two decades.
Analysis of police data indicates the overall number of shootings increased in 19 of the 22 Chicago police districts from 2019 to 2022. On average, each district saw 39 more victims of gun violence.
The Central District, which encompasses the Loop, South Loop and Near South Side, recorded the largest percentage increase among any district between 2019 and 2022, with shooting more than tripling and the number of gun violence victims quadrupling.
Youth crime is driving the spike. More than 90% of youth shooting victims were not enrolled in school. Earlier analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab documented 8% of those arrested were for homicides, 9% for shootings, 32% for robberies and 49% for carjackings were youth 17 years and younger.
What’s driving young Chicagoans to commit more crimes? While the causes of crime are complex, there is widespread agreement – from the FBI director to former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot – that young people being out of school plays an important role.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s politics accelerated youth crime. No single act was more responsible for keeping students out of school than the closing of Chicago Public Schools campuses for 17 months beginning in 2020. CPS has lost 87,000 students since 2010, when a radical wing of the Chicago Teachers Union took power.
The CTU-forced school closings swelled the ranks of young adults both out of school and jobs. The University of Illinois Chicago Great Cities Institute reports that in 2021, more than 92,000 Chicagoans age 16-19 were jobless, and 36,758 20-24 year-olds were both out of school and jobless. Meanwhile, Illinois State Board of Education data shows of the remaining students, an astonishing 45% were chronically absent in 2022. That number was 24% before the pandemic in 2019.
Meanwhile, 52% of CPS students were chronically truant, a slightly different metric, in 2022. That’s 2.5 times higher than the state average. The accelerated exodus, which is in part a product of the school closings and the constant education disruptions by the CTU, has helped fuel the pipeline of new victims and criminals.
Something has to change. Citywide, one in every 1,000 Chicagoans was a victim of gun violence in 2022.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, a longtime CTU leader and member, has carried over anti-police rhetoric to his new administration, which is overseeing a crime-ridden summer in Chicago. Add to that the mayor’s lack of intention to restore the police force, which is currently facing over 1,000 police department vacancies and has 1,700 fewer officers than in 2019. With fewer cops, the city is working the remaining officers ragged – Chicago has spent $126 million on police overtime in 2023, according to a WTTW analysis of city records. This is on pace to surpass last year’s $210 million record.
Addressing gun violence in Chicago starts with reducing the CPD officer shortage, providing adequate resources for judges determining whether to release or hold people ahead of trial and ensuring witness protection so police are able to obtain vital information needed to identify and pursue criminal actors.
The longer city leaders wait to take action, the more of Chicago’s most vulnerable residents will pay the price for their indecision.