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Crime Is Up And Down

During my 33 years as a Chicago Police Officer, one of the things I learned is that numbers play an important role in law enforcement. The biggest lesson was that numbers don't lie but some people lie about numbers.

Here in Chicago, we hear about numbers almost on a daily basis as they relate to crime here in our city. Over the years on the job, I have served nine police superintendents, and each one had a different way of releasing numbers to the public. Through those years I have seen numbers inflated, ignored, exaggerated, manipulated, deflated and, yes, even made up.

However, as the press in our city became more and more probing with highly skilled investigative reporters who were armed with "freedom of information requests," a new way of handling police statistics and numbers gave way to creativity.

Crime stats are usually given out on a year-by-year comparison. If crime was down, we saw the triumphant press conferences announcing how well we were doing. If crime was up, we would tout arrests and try and find a logical reason that did not smack of police incompetence.

Recently, an odd thing has been happening - and I only say odd because I have have not witnessed it before. In the year 2012, when Chicago's 512 murders were the talk of the country, what with our mayor being called Murder Mayor by the head of the Chicago Teachers Union and our city being compared to the war zone in Afghanistan, things have changed significantly.

I am tethered to Chicago by a wife who works full time as a Chicago police officer and our beloved Siberian Husky Lille, who requires at least two hours of romping in her favorite climate: the more snow and cold the better (boy did she enjoy this year). So I have not fled the city and become a snowbird. I follow all the news on a daily basis and of course I am especially attuned to the crime talk and how it is reported.

All during 2012, when we were experiencing horrendous stories of shootings and as the murder rate soared (including, shamefully, many innocent victims), I heard almost on a daily basis from our city leaders that "crime is down."

I immediately wondered what crimes are down (treason, horse thievery, thefts of sewer covers?). I tried to get some answers to no avail. However, I do know that several things have changed in the way murders are currently being classified by our police department.

In past years, all homicides were listed in the final count; this included police-related shootings and self-defense shootings. Tthey were all homicides. all counted in the record books, but classified as "justifiable." It's not splitting hairs by any means because if you are going to start saying we are declining the homicide rate, this has to reflect how those were tallied in the past.

If we look at the numbers that the medical examiner releases, we can see a big discrepancy between those numbers and the city-released numbers. The past math has to come into the way we now reflect the numbers. Is this being deceptive or is the press and the public just not interested enough in the facts?

At a recent city council hearing on crime, one of our alderman said to current police superintendent Garry McCarthy, "Sir I'm looking at your numbers here and they tell me that crime is down but I just have to say it sure does not seem like it what with all the violence in my ward. I think we should do a better job of getting this information out to the public.

I could not help to think of weathecasters who tell us that it's 20 degrees but then say "But it feels like 10 below because of the wind chill."

Earlier this month, McCarthy held a press conference and stated that in the first part of this year, crime was at one of its all-time low, including gang-related shootings.

Well, maybe if you were a snowbird and you just dropped back in to the city you would probably say, "Boy, that's great!"

My question is: Who decides what a gang-related shooting is and where is that information kept?

Is there a new way of deciding that statistic?

Because I have not left the city, I know that we experienced some of the coldest weather in our history; it was also ranked the third snowiest winter on record. I have a gut feeling that the weather has played a more important role in lowering the crime rate than any one's man's strategy.

Now, I sincerely hope that McCarthy is right when he says it's his strategies that is the force behind the dramatic drop in crime, but there's that old instinct again that reminds me of the Great American General, Anthony McAuliffe, when given a German surrender ultimatum at the Battle of the Bulge. His answer was "Nuts!"

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Bob Angone is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. He welcomes your comments.



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Posted on March 27, 2014


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