Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Chicago, Summer Crime, and the Slide Towards Detroit by Mark Bergen

[ Mark Bergen writes a blog called Econometro at forbes.com. He wrote this piece about the rising murder wave there. I’m including it as part of my State of Chicago series, but I should note that it was written independently and is not intended to endorse any of my particular views regarding Chicago – Aaron. ]

Here in Chicago we are fretting about crime. Philadelphia is hosting a jump in violence, with an 86 percent rise in homicides in June alone. But, otherwise, we are mostly alone. Other major cities are continuing the decades-long decline in crime rates, while Chicago has seen a nearly 40 percent spike in murders this year. (You can see a nicely visualized breakdown of the city’s crime, by ward, with this newly released interactive tool.)

The crime spike recently spread to the Magnificent Mile, the squeaky clean shopping district downtown. It led one Alderman, granted anonymity perhaps to escape the wrath of Mayor Emanuel, to suggest that these shootings in safe areas mark “when we start becoming Detroit.” That taps into a huge fear here—turning into the gutted city up north. Lines like that, though, are usually associated with simple, sensationalized ideas about urban violence.

One person who has spent much of his career dispelling these easy notions of crime is Jens Ludwig, a researcher at the University of Chicago. He has an op-ed in Crain’s this morning laying out three reasons why Chicagoans should be concerned with crime. One, in particular, has enormous implications for business in the city:

Third, no one should want Chicago to turn into Detroit — but that’s the direction that violence leads cities. Research by my University of Chicago colleague Steve Levitt and Julie Cullen of the University of California, San Diego, showed that for every homicide that occurs in a city, total population declines by 70 people. The 2010 census showed that Chicago had shrunk by 200,000 people in the past decade. If Chicago had New York’s success in controlling violence (that city’s homicide rate is about one-third ours right now, even though our rates were similar in the early 1990s), Chicago’s population would have held steady or even grown the past 10 years.

This, I believe, is the research he cites. Crime isn’t the only factor pushing city residents out; for that decade of Chicago loss, violent crime rates were steadily falling. But it is a factor, and population loss certainly is a drag on a city’s economic prowess.

That parlays nicely to New York, where the city continues to suppress its crime and expand its economic force. The legal scholar Franklin E. Zimring has a lengthy, nuanced article titled, tellingly, “How New York Beat Crime”:

Once again, the simple explanations are not of much help. Some of the authorities’ more prominent campaigns were, in fact, little more than slogans, including “zero tolerance” and the “broken windows” strategy — the theory that measures such as fixing windows, cleaning up graffiti and cracking down on petty crimes prevents a neighborhood from entering into a spiral of dilapidation and decay and ultimately results in fewer serious crimes. For instance, the NYPD did not increase arrests for prostitution and was not consistent over time in its enforcement of gambling or other vice crimes.

But other campaigns seem to have had a significant effect on crime. Had the city followed through on its broken-windows policing, it would have concentrated precious resources in marginal neighborhoods rather than in those with the highest crime. In fact, the police did the opposite: they emphasized ‘hotspots’ a strategy that had been proved effective in other cities and that almost certainly made a substantial contribution in New York.

Despite the myths of a tough crackdown on crime, pushed by, among others, one-time mayors, New York’s imprisonment rate fell relative to other cities. A sharp fall in illegal drug use in the city helped quite a bit. Zimring also touches upon the role of aggressive, stop-and-frisk policing in the violence decline, though he notes its impact is small, its costs potentially large. Like every other factor, it eschews simple explanations. For those interested in crime policies, the whole thing is worth a read.

Following Ludwig, Zimring does arrive at a simple, cost effective recommendation: “First of all, cops matter.” In loads of studies, more police seem to be the only factor neatly correlated with reduced crime. Facing red budgets, both Detroit and Chicago have shrunk their forces. Unlike leadership in the former city, Emanuel seems to be avoiding the broken windows tactic, opting, according to the Times, to strategically target gangs with the statistical approach of Superintendent Garry McCarthy, the police chief who oversaw much of New York’s decline. McCarthy’s current department, though, has roughly 450 uniformed positions unfilled.

That Times article ends with a Chicago resident lamenting that “we’ve lost our way.” It’s a natural expression for someone at the center of truly depressing violence, and a fine capstone about a subject, city crime, bereft of easy answers. But the idea that a kid in Chicago is locked into a criminal path, or that the city is on some unstoppable decline, isn’t necessarily true. Here’s Zimring:

Perhaps the most optimistic lesson to take from New York’s experience is that high rates of homicides and muggings are not hardwired into a city’s populations, cultures and institutions.

Chicago need not become Detroit, and Detroit need not remain itself.

This post originally appeared at forbes.com on June 26, 2012. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Topics: Public Safety
Cities: Chicago, New York

20 Responses to “Chicago, Summer Crime, and the Slide Towards Detroit by Mark Bergen”

  1. marko says:

    You’ll notice in NYC there’s a lot more cops on the street at lower wages, often young men in their 20’s. Its not meant to be a lifetime patronage job or career like Chicago. Less pay = more cops on the street. Getting rid of public housing would also help Chicago greatly as one housing project, be it large or small, will destroy the local schools, parks, commercial district and tax base. In Chicago’s case, it’s unfair to make one city house so many people on the public dime. Spread it out.

  2. WBEZ (in particular, reporter Rob Wildeboer) has been doing a great job on a series about Chicago police and the mayor’s office. They’ve been trying to bring some accountability to early promises Emanuel made about police force staffing.

    In short, there was a promise – or a public understanding – that many new cops would be added to the force. Instead, some cops (not enough) were pulled from other areas to be on beats. And programs those officers supported – ones that helped reduce crime and identify issues in a proactive way – suffered as a result. The reports are worth checking out.

  3. jbcmh81 says:

    This all seems very premature to me. Chicago’s crime rates have been generally dropping following national trends, and it makes zero sense to take a single year and call it some kind of crisis. If you look at any other city nationally, there will be years with much higher crime and years with much lower crime, but the general trend is still down. This applies to Chicago just as much as any other city. One bad year does not mean that that trend does not exist there as well. Now, if this were to continue next year and the year after that, etc, then clearly there would be circumstances involved that have changed the dynamic of the city’s crime rates that run counter to national trends, but a single year doesn’t allow for that kind of conclusion, especially when it’s only half over.

  4. uffy says:

    Meanwhile rents are sky high and rising – sounds like a dying city to me.

    Yes, Chicago is in the midst of a gang war brought on, supposedly, by inroads against these same gangs leading to a power vacuum. However this is not a generalized increase in crime or even violent crime. It is indeed quite awful and needs to be stopped, but it is no way indicative of some sort of generalized blight/decline/failure/whatever. I highly doubt that Philadelphia is turning into Detroit either.

  5. James says:

    “Oh No! 16 Murders In NYC In Five Days”. I setting here reading this article on the Global Grind. Yes the issue is serious in Chicago but, it’s also trending across the nation. Seattle has more homicides as of July than it had all of last year Stop trying to turn this issue and other into a Chicago bashing forum.

  6. James says:

    Please forgive the typos in my response listed above.

  7. James, NYC is not immune from crime or other urban ills, but even with those 16 murders, NYC only had 193 murders through July 8th. That’s on pace for a record low. Meanwhile, much smaller Chicago had 240 murders through June 17th.

  8. the urban politician says:

    This is certainly not good news.

    However, as always, this is almost exclusively black on black gang violence, and mostly isolated to the worst ghettos of the city.

    The same demographic that is fleeing the city in droves.

    There must be some sort of big gang war going on, who knows?

    By the way, I agree with Marko that CHA needs to be dismantled. I have been against the whole notion of public housing for a long time.

  9. Daniel says:

    TUP, I’m not nearly as down on the city as this blog tends to be–and I think it’s worth keeping in mind that violence overall is down significantly over the last twenty years, and that even this year basically all serious crime other than shootings and homicide is down–but it’s really not true that killings are “isolated to the worst ghettos of the city.” Murder is a serious problem all over the South and West sides, including relatively middle-class areas.

  10. pete-rock says:

    I think several of the commenters have hit on key points on Chicago and its current violent crime problem:

    – Crime overall in Chicago is down significantly over the last couple decades, but not as much as some other major cities.

    – Crime has had an uptick in recent years, possibly because of a gang war.

    – Crime is being sensationalized by the local media because it’s visible in places it typically hasn’t been so before.

    – Cities like New York have more cops and younger cops on the street, albeit at lower (relative) wages, and that might contribute to the crime difference.

    – The dismantling of public housing in Chicago may have had an impact on crime, as former public housing residents have come into conflict with residents in new neighborhoods.

    I think these points explain a big part of the crime problem in Chicago. And even though each act of violent crime is a terrible personal and social tragedy, I think crime as a crisis in Chicago is overstated. However I am beginning to lean toward the opinion that higher violent crime rates might be endemic to cities recovering from huge manufacturing legacies.

  11. Peter says:

    There were over 900 homicides in Chicago in 1990, there were 440 in 2011. It appears there is a blip this year in Chicago, if it keeps up, I will get worried. 6 months is not much of a trend. 900 to 440 over 20 years is a trend. As someone noted above, the vast majority of the homicides are still relegated to the usual (unfortunately) ghetto areas.

  12. BelmontRes says:

    Marko (Commenter #1), NYC cops have a significantly higher pay scale than Chicago cops. Max salary is reached at 5-7 years, and is among the highest in the country.

    So, yes, there are more cops on the street in NYC than in Chicago, but it has nothing to do with lower wages. NYC presumably spends a lot more on law enforcement.

  13. BelmontRes says:

    And Marko, why would “getting rid of housing projects” support the goal of lower crime? Chicago has been demolishing projects for decades now, while NYC has never demolished a public housing tower.

    Why would you assume that public housing is the cause of crime, and that destruction of public housing eliminates the crime? Is there any evidence of this?

  14. NYPD staffing is down since peak. The Manhattan Institute isn’t known for friendliness to government spending but in City Journal they advocate for reversing NYPD cuts, calling it New York’s “indispensable institution” saying that it is “the one city agency whose headcount shouldn’t fall.”


  15. BelmontRes says:

    Also, what’s with this comment, from Urban Politician- “as always, this is almost exclusively black on black gang violence, and mostly isolated to the worst ghettos of the city”.

    I’m not getting the point. Are black lives worth less, or should we not care because yuppies aren’t yet being gunned down in Lincoln Park?

    And this: “The same demographic that is fleeing the city in droves”. Is there any evidence that the “thug” demographic is the one “fleeing the city in droves”? If so, why are homicides skyrocketing? Why is the white population dropping? Why are middle class neighborhoods on the city fringes shrinking the fastest?

  16. urbanleftbehind says:

    Belmont, you beat me to the point about public housing. The demolition of the 3-mile long Robert Taylor Homes and the larger West Side complexes actually facilitated the spread of crime into black middle class and buppie neighborhoods in North Austin and in the areas south of 79th Street. A lot of the crime potential in young back males got burned up simply trying to exit and enter the complexes on a daily basis. NYC’s stop and frisk tactic is expedited because it is able to pinpoint on vertical hot spots as opposed to larger geographies of single and low density housing. If it is a matter of prioritizing resources, you have to prevent the mob attacks in a more forceful and definitive way. That affects net property, income, and sales tax payers. In a strange twist, you could say that Los Angeles, a city that tradionally has and undersized policy force, sort of outsourced police activity against black gangs to hispanic gangs.

  17. Mike says:

    As a transplant now living in Chicago, I’ve witness a culture and a tolerance of crime that I’ve seen in no other city. Not even Detroit. It’s VERY normal for drug dealers and gang-bangers to stand on street corners and conduct their business in the open. It’s VERY normal to drive around the city while high on drugs or intoxicated. It’s very normal to see hookers walk the streets on busy thoroughfares, children running the streets AROUND THE CLOCK unsupervised, men gambling on the streets in front on liquor stores etc. What’s normal and acceptable in Chicago is NOT normal in other cities. I’m not giving full credit at this time but since Rahm Emanuel and Garry McCarthy have taken over, it seems as though the tolerance for this sort of negative behavior has been getting addressed for the first time I’ve been in Chicago (over a decade).

    Chicagoans need to change the culture and stop accepting criminal activities as part of the norm. Open air crime is a community killer in the fastest way!

  18. Peter says:

    I have never seen a open air drug market in Chicago. It would not be tolerated in my neighborhood for more than 1 minute.

  19. John says:

    Sounds like New York is following the recommendations of David Kennedy. Read Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.

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