Vallas: Chicago violent crime up again, as city cuts police officers

Vallas: Chicago violent crime up again, as city cuts police officers

Chicago’s status as the nation’s murder capital was retained in 2023. So, what are city leaders doing about it? Cutting cops.

As Chicago’s crime problem persists, it’s becoming increasingly clear city leaders have no plans to get it under control.

While the number of murders in Chicago declined in 2023 – as they did in most major cities – Chicago still leads the nation in the number of homicides, with 644 killings and 36 mass shootings. That’s 36 mass shootings if you use the FBI definition of four or more people shot. Use the Chicago Police Department’s definition of mass shootings as three or more shot, then there were 83 mass shootings in Chicago. The city also led the nation with 76 school-aged children killed. Violent crime incidents rose in 2023 as well – numbers that are likely being underreported because of police shortages.

Those numbers are tragic and reason to be ashamed. Those lost lives are reason to be furious and act.

But City Hall and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson don’t seem inclined to do anything. Their actions are destined to make this new year even worse.

The mayor seems determined to further reduce the number of Chicago police officers. His budget eliminated 833 police positions, compounding the 614 positions eliminated by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Instead of using CPD officers, the Chicago Transit Authority hired 300 private, unarmed security officers for its stations, platforms and trains. They have no power of arrest. Most recently, Johnson’s appointed school board pressed to remove Chicago police officers from high schools.

While there are many factors that contribute to the rise and fall in violent crime, police officer strength is the most critical. The pattern is clear: When police strength significantly increases, the number of murders and other violent crimes decline. When it decreases, the numbers rise. We saw this during the Mayor Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel and Lightfoot administrations. Now as Johnson further reduces police officer numbers, Chicagoans are paying with their lives.

Restoring police strength and expanding its presence should be a priority for Chicago leaders in 2024. A true comprehensive, community-based policing strategy would ensure each local police beat is covered by officers who know and are known to the community and respond to 911 calls in real time. Police beats must include CTA stations and train platforms and schools. It could also include alternative responses to police, such as involving social workers.

Here’s where crime in Chicago stands today:

1) Overall violent crime is up and is likely being under-reported. Overall major crime was up in 2023 by 16%, with robberies up 23%. There is likely significant underreporting of crimes given police shortages. Over half of “high priority” 911 calls did not have an officer available to respond when the call came in. This is a huge increase compared to 2019, when 19% of all calls didn’t have an officer available.

2) The lack of officers has led to plummeting arrest rates. Arrest rates for violent crimes are at a low 4.5%. This is down from a paltry 9.3% in 2019. Unfortunately for Chicagoans, it is highly unlikely a perpetrator of a crime will ever be caught. Even for murder cases, barely one-fourth of homicide crimes resulted in actual arrests.

3) Early release puts violent criminals on the street who are committing even more violent crimes. There were at least 30 victims of murder and attempted murder by persons out on felony bail last year and 238 since 2021, according to CWB-Chicago. With less than one-third of murders and one-fifth of the attempted murders resulting in arrests, the actual “combined numbers” may be 10 times this amount.

4) There is a push to “defund the police” from Johnson supporters. Expect Johnson’s progressive supporters to continue to press for less police funding as part of “defund the police” campaigns. Their aims are misdirected because only 12% of the city’s budget and 7% of all the government funding the mayor controls is spent on the Chicago Police Department. Staff shortages have also led to a record $200 million in overtime expenditures.

5) Youth violence is escalating. There have been record increases in crimes against and committed by school-age youth. The University of Illinois Crime Lab reports a 50% increase in murders of school-age youth 17 years and younger between 2019 and 2022. During the past 10 years nationwide there has been a three-fold increase in school shootings from the previous 10 years.

6) The mayor’s “treatment not trauma” alternative to policing lacks substance. The mayor’s much-hyped “treatment not trauma” alternative to police responding to 911 calls is severely lacking. Aside from reopening two mental health centers, he did little to build upon Lightfoot’s program. By his budget director’s own admission, the budget adds only $26 million in new program spending in the community. Contrast that with the $130 million the city has spent and the $360 million it projects it will spend on migrants by next year. The new spending is a pittance.

7) Chicagoanss clearly feel unsafe and want more police. According to a recent poll, 64% of Chicagoans said they felt unsafe. And respondents indicate they want more police, not less. A RealClear Opinion Research survey showed 77% of Black Chicagoans want to see as many or more police in their communities. Close to 80% of all Chicagoans answered the same way. Chicagoans implicitly feel there is a severe shortage of officers.

It’s not too late for Johnson and the City Council to fix the crime crisis by restoring police strength and introducing a community-based police strategy. Let’s not allow 2024 to become another year of record crime.

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