The [Wednesday] Papers
"Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on Tuesday begged for help from Chicagoans to end the conflicts that result in cops shooting suspects - one day after officers wounded a 13-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man," the Sun-Times reports.
Once again, the Sun-Times frames an issue to its liking (see the item More Horrible Crime Reporting from Monday's column) even after acknowledging that its reporters don't know why police-involved shootings are up this year.
And the framing is also to McCarthy's liking.
Too bad the facts don't back either of them.
"McCarthy said police have shot 41 people this year, compared to 25 in 2010. Weapons were recovered in all but one of those shootings, including both on Monday, he said."
This doesn't tell us as much as McCarthy wants us to believe, despite the Sun-Times's typical gullibility.
A) Has McCarthy made the reports in those 41 cases available to reporters? You'd think the Sun-Times would have asked for them.
B) Weapons may have been recovered in all but one of those cases, but were weapons drawn, used or even visible in each of those cases? In other words, were officers threatened in each of those cases? (I'm not saying they weren't; I'm saying we need to know. Finding a gun - or a knife; he says "weapons" but doesn't specify "guns" - in some dude's sock after the fact really shouldn't count.)
C) Is there a proven correlation between threats to police officers and police shootings of civilians? Not every police shooting is the result of an assault against an officer.
"At a news conference, the superintendent said he did not know why police-involved shootings are up."
And yet, he is supplying a reason anyway. Don't you think he should try to find out?
"But he noted aggravated assaults and batteries on cops have more than doubled over the past decade."
A) Aggravated assaults and batteries on cops are actually down by about 10 percent this year from last, according to CPD figures.
B) National trends do not show a doubling of such attacks on cops as the CPD says has happened here, which would make such a trend in Chicago all the more remarkable but also makes it all the more suspect.
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, the number of officers assaulted per 100 are as follows, by year:
1987 (as far as the data I looked at went back): 16.8
The Sun-Times reported on Sunday that aggravated assaults and batteries on Chicago police officers went from 739 in 2000 to 1,480 in 2006. Those numbers don't look right, but if they are, there is certainly something different going on in Chicago than the rest of the nation. (FBI figures broken down by region don't show the trends in the Midwest to be any different than the national figures.)
Now it's true that Chicago has always had a more intractable gang problem than any other city in America. But Chicago's crime trends are rarely at odds with national trends - a big exception being the murder rate in the late 90s and early 00s.
In December 2002, I wrote this: "We're number one. Again. No other American city has more murders than Chicago. In 2001, with a population of 2.9 million, Chicago recorded 666 murders. New York City, with a population of eight million, recorded 643 murders. Los Angeles, with a population of 3.7 million, recorded 550 murders. Chicago has topped the nation in homicides twice in the past four years. (Chicago's murder rate-murders per capita-is lower than in some smaller U.S. cities, if that's any consolation.)
"Policing experts point out that Chicago has far fewer murders than it did ten years ago, when it recorded 943. According to the Chicago Crime Commission, the number of murders in the city is 22 percent lower than in 1991. But New York City has 73 percent fewer murders, and several large cities, including Los Angeles and Houston, have seen the number of murders decline by more than 50 percent.
"Why can't Chicago do that well?"
Curiously, one of the answers was this:
"Chicago has resisted New York City's two-pronged approach: first, application of the so-called 'broken windows' theory of cracking down on small crimes in order to prevent large ones; second, the use of CompStat, a sophisticated software system that tracks where crimes occur, resulting in a smarter deployment of forces and accountability for commanders and officers. Chicago doesn't have CompStat."
Now Chicago has a police chief who helped design that approach. I doubt CompStat has anything to do with police shootings, so maybe McCarthy is the X Factor. What else has changed in the department? I suspect when he took over for Jody Weis he told his officers to start kicking ass again - even on the little stuff.
Either that, or the number of police shootings is simply an anomaly. It happens.
In any case, McCarthy - and the reporters who cover him - ought to conduct a more sophisticated analysis before spouting excuses that don't seem backed by the data. Especially in a department that is more data-driven than ever.
McCarthy is often credited in media reports with a 40 percent drop in shooting incidents in Newark during his time as police chief there.
On the other hand . . .
"As Chicago prepares to welcome its new police superintendent, Newark Police Department Director Garry McCarthy, federal authorities have launched an investigation into the New Jersey department - months after the American Civil Liberties Union complained of rampant misconduct and lax internal oversight," AP reported in May.
"U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman says the probe will look into allegations of excessive force, discriminatory policing and poor treatment of detainees in holding cells. They will also investigate whether officers retaliate against those who legally observe, or record, police activity.
"The assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division says the department did a preliminary investigation before deciding to launch a formal probe.
"In a 96-page filing to the Department of Justice in September, the ACLU called for federal oversight of the city's 1,300-officer department because of lax internal oversight and a high number of excessive force and misconduct complaints against the department."
"Many of the allegations and lawsuits cited in the ACLU petition precede McCarthy's tenure," the Newark Star-Ledger notes.
But not all of them. For example:
"The petition said that out of 261 complaints in 2008 and 2009 involving excessive force; differential treatment; or improper arrest, entry or search, only one was sustained.
"A subsequent Star-Ledger analysis of department records showed the outcome of one of every 10 internal affairs complaints filed against Newark police officers from 2000 to 2008 was not reported to the Attorney General's Office as required by state guidelines."
And from the Sun-Times in June:
"Police Supt. Garry McCarthy declared war on the Maniac Latin Disciples after two young girls were shot in a Northwest Side park earlier this month.
"The shooter was a member of the gang and was gunning for rival Latin Kings when the girls, ages 2 and 7, were wounded on June 8, prosecutors said. The younger girl was grazed in the head and the 7-year-old was seriously wounded in the back.
"'We're going to obliterate that gang,' McCarthy told a roomful of police supervisors shortly after the shooting. 'Every one of their locations has to get blown up until they cease to exist.'"
I'm not saying this is the wrong thing to do; frankly, I don't know. I'm just saying we deserve a better understanding of what is happening on our streets than we're getting.
"Cop shootings are on the rise in 2011 and Sun-Times reporter Frank Main asks why ['Shootings by Chicago cops soar - but why? Sunday]?" Officer Richard Barber writes in a letter to the editor.
"That's an easy question for a civilian who uses a computer for his job and doesn't wear a bulletproof vest and carry a semi-automatic weapon."
Apparently Officer Barber thinks just asking the question is an attack on the police. If Barber had read Main's story with a cooler head, he may have realized that it generally supports the thesis he himself is putting forward: More brazen thugs.
I'd like to respectfully suggest to Officer Barber, though, that his job would be less dangerous if coupled with facts on the ground instead of suppositions in his head.
"Crime rates dropped across the U.S. for more than a decade and continue to do so - Chicago's part of the trend according to information released by the Chicago Police Department," WBEZ reported last week. "But it may not feel that way given the steady stream of news headlines on violence."
The segment was called "Is It Safe To Trust Chicago Crime Statistics?"
Maybe it should have been called "Is It Safe To Trust Chicago Crime Reporting?" and reoriented into a media critique.
No matter how much crime drops, it will never "feel" that way if crime reporting doesn't change. The steady stream of headlines will continue unabated, without context. The crime rate could be cut in half and the amount of crime news would still fill the same percentage of print, pixels and airtime. It will never "feel" like crime is down.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Reel us in.
Posted on July 27, 2011
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