The Policy Shop: In Chicago, violent crime goes up as arrests go down

The Policy Shop: In Chicago, violent crime goes up as arrests go down

This episode of The Policy Shop is by staff writer Patrick Andriesen and data scientist Jon Josko.

Two recent measures of Chicago crime yielded a disturbing theme: Crimes are getting more violent; police are making fewer arrests.

One of those crimes, a carjacking, left a Chicago Police officer dead. Officer Luis Huesca was shot 10 times by a carjacker.

His mother said it all when she told Mayor Brandon Johnson to stay away from the funeral. She blamed his lack of support for officers and his “defund the police” agenda for her son’s death.

Huesca’s case was one of 7,390 motor vehicle thefts and carjackings Chicagoans reported from Jan. 1 through April 30. That’s 2,619 fewer than during the same four months of 2023 – a 26% drop. But it was a drop from record-high vehicle crimes while the arrest rate continued at near record lows.

“If they will do that to a Chicago police officer, why does anybody think the average citizen stands a chance in any of these situations? Because you do not,” Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Union President John Catanzara said in a video following the fatal carjacking.

Another crime stat showed a similar pattern. Assaults were up 6.7% for the 12 months ending in April as confrontations became more violent. Arrests were near record lows.

In 2019, 18.2% of assaults resulted in an arrest. By 2023, the arrest rate on assaults dropped to 10.2%.

From January through April of 2024, the arrest rate for vehicle theft only reached 3.34% – the second-lowest rate on record when comparing the first four months of each year.

Lots of crime, few arrests, and here’s a third similarity: Mayor Johnson’s Austin neighborhood is Ground Zero for both crime categories.

Johnson’s neighbors suffered 1,203 assaults in the first four months of the year. They had 345 of their vehicles taken during that period, often at gunpoint. Both stats were the highest for a Chicago neighborhood.

If Johnson can’t wrap his head around helping curb Chicago crime in general, how about helping the people he grew up with? How can he ignore his own neighbors being attacked?

Black Chicagoans were 4.5 times more likely to be the victim of a violent vehicle crime than white Chicagoans, data for the 12 months through April shows.

And they were 5.3 times more likely to be the victim of an assault. Black Chicagoans were the people most-often attacked in April, constituting 50% of assault cases while representing about 28% of the population.

So far Johnson’s response to rising, violent crime has been to reduce budgeted police by 833 positions. The Chicago Police Department is operating with at least 1,447 fewer officers than in 2019 when former Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office.

Studies show the more police there are, the lower the crime totals. They also show it’s important for officers to be visible in the community, especially at night.

City leaders must face this problem, which means making sure enough police officers are on the beat and in the right roles, the courts can process cases efficiently, and prosecutors and judges are able to do their jobs effectively.

It’s time to re-fund the Chicago Police Department.

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