Crime in Chicago

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Crime rates (2014)
Crime type Rate*
Homicide: 15.1
Forcible rape: 49.3**
Robbery: 359.9
Aggravated assault: 460.0
Total violent crime: 884.3
Burglary: 533.6
Larceny-theft: 2224.6
Motor vehicle theft: 367.9
Arson: 16.9
Total property crime: 3126.2
* Number of reported crimes per 100,000 population.
** Revised definition[1]
Source: FBI 2014 UCR data

Crime in Chicago has been tracked by the Chicago Police Department's Bureau of Records since the beginning of the 20th century. The city's overall crime rate, especially the violent crime rate, is substantially higher than the US average.[2]


Chicago saw a major rise in violent crime starting in the late 1960s.[3] Murders in the city first peaked in 1974, with 970 murders when the city's population was over three million, resulting in a murder rate of around 29 per 100,000, and again in 1992, with 943 murders when the city had fewer than three million people, resulting in a murder rate of 34 murders per 100,000 citizens.

After 1992, the murder count decreased to 641 murders. The population was at 2,799,000 in 1999, so the decrease was slow, but still an improvement. In 2002, Chicago had fewer murders but a significantly higher murder rate than New York or Los Angeles.[4]

Violent crime[edit]

Chicago police officers in Marquette Park.

Chicago experienced a major rise in violent crime starting in the late 1960s,[5] a decline in overall crime in the 1990s,[6] and then a rebound in overall murders the mid-2010s.[7] Murder, rape, and robbery are common violent crimes in the city, and the occurrences of such incidents are documented by the Chicago Police Department and indexed in annual crime reports.[8]

After adopting crime-fighting techniques in 2004 that were recommended by the Los Angeles Police Department and the New York City Police Department,[9] Chicago recorded 448 homicides, the lowest total since 1965. This murder rate of 15.65 per 100,000 population is still above the U.S. average, an average which takes in many small towns and suburbs.[10]

This homicide rate is similar to that of Los Angeles in 2004 (13.4 per 100,000), and twice that of New York City (7.0 per 100,000). Chicago's homicide tally increased slightly in 2005 and 2006 to 450 and 467, respectively, though the overall crime rate in 2006 continued the downward trend that has taken place since the early 1990s, with 2.5% fewer violent crimes and 2.4% fewer property crimes compared to 2005.[10]

However, David Bernstein and Noah Isackson, of Chicago magazine, have challenged Chicago's homicide statistics, arguing that cases have been deliberately misclassified to lower the rate, particularly in 2013.[11]

Murder and shootings[edit]

CPD working a murder crime scene in Englewood.

According to the 2011 Homicide Report released by the Chicago Police Department, the murder clearance rate has dropped from over 70% for 1991 to under 34% for 2011. Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said a pervasive "no-snitch code" on the street remains the biggest reason more murders aren’t being solved in Chicago. Adding,“We’re not doing well because we’re not getting cooperation".[12] 76.3 percent of murder victims had a prior arrest history. Warmer months have significantly higher murder rates, and over 70% of murders take place between 7PM and 5AM.[13]

In 2011, 83% of murders involved a firearm, and 6.4% were the result of a stabbing. 10% of murders in 2011 were the result of an armed robbery and at least 60% were gang or gang narcotics altercations. Over 40% of victims and 60% of offenders were between the ages of 17 and 25. 90.1% of victims were male. 75.3% of victims and 70.5% of offenders were African American, 18.9% were Hispanic (20.3% of offenders), and 5.6% were white (3.5% of offenders).[13]

Murder rates in Chicago vary greatly depending on the neighborhood in question. Many neighborhoods on the South Side tend to be poorer, less educated, predominantly African American, and infested with street gangs.[14] The neighborhoods of Austin on the west side and Englewood on the near South Side, for example, have homicide rates that are 10 times higher than other parts of the city.[15] Violence in these neighborhoods has had a detrimental impact on the academic performance of children in schools, as well as a higher financial burden for school districts in need of counselors, social workers, and psychiatrists to help children cope with the violence.[16] In 2014, Chicago Public Schools adopted the "Safe Passage Route" program to place unarmed volunteers, police officers and firefighters along designated walking routes to provide security for children en route to school.[17] From 2010-2014, 114 school children were murdered in Chicago.[18]

2015 saw an increase in homicides and shooting incidents compared to 2014. In October, over 18 area alderman called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to dismiss Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy citing a 21% increase in murders and shootings in 2015.[19] Also in October 2015, Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH called for President Obama to declare a state of emergency in Chicago over gun violence. McCarthy was later terminated by Emanuel following the fall out from the shooting of Laquan McDonald.[20][21] In 2015, Chicago recorded 2,987 shooting victims and 488 homicides.[22][23]

A gunshot wound to center mass can quickly prove fatal without immediate medical attention due to blood loss and Internal injuries.[24] Chicago emergency responders and ER doctors have been praised for their ability to keep the vast majority of shooting victims alive.[25] In September 2015, University of Chicago Medicine and Sinai Health Systems announced a joint 40 million dollar venture to convert Holy Cross Hospital into a level 1 trauma center on the South side, making some of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods less than 5 miles from high quality care.[26] It is estimated that the medical expenses associated with gun violence costs the city of Chicago 2.5 billion dollars a year.[27][28]

In July 2015, Chicago recorded a grisly and still unsolved quadruple homicide in the Chatham neighborhood which left a single mother and her 3 children all dead.[29] In October 2015, Chicago was named "America's mass shooting capital", citing 18 occasions in 2015 in which 4 or more people were shot in a single incident.[30][31][32]

In the month of January 2016, over 270 people were shot in Chicago, 51 of them fatally.[33][34][35]

Chicago street gangs[edit]

Gangster Disciples "tag" in Chicago

Chicago is considered the most gang infested city in the United States, with a population of over 100,000 active members from nearly 60 different factions.[36][37] Gang warfare and retaliation is common in Chicago. Gangs were responsible for 61% of the homicides in Chicago in 2011 [13] Examples of large Chicago street gang factions include the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Black P. Stones and Latin Kings.[38]

Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy blames Chicago's gang culture for homicide rates and violent crime, stating "It’s very frustrating to know that it’s like 7 percent of the population causes 80 percent of the violent crime...The gangs here are traditional gangs that are generational, if you will. The grandfather was a gang member, the father’s a gang member, and the kid right now is going to be a gang member."[39]

Mayor Rahm Emanuel disbanded the Chicago Police Department's anti-gang unit in 2012.[40][41]

Annual homicide totals by year[edit]

Number of homicides in Chicago by year

Public corruption and political crime[edit]

Chicago has a long history of public corruption that regularly draws the attention of federal law enforcement and prosecutors.[73] Chicago's political landscape has been widely described as a political machine orchestrated by the Cook County Democratic Party [74][75] In the 1980s, the FBI's Operation Greylord uncovered massive and systemic corruption in Chicago's judicial system. Greylord was the longest and most successful undercover operation in the history of the FBI, and resulted in 92 federal indictments, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, eight policemen, 10 deputy sheriffs, eight court officials, and one state legislator. Nearly all were convicted on a variety of charges including bribery, kickbacks, fraud, vote buying, racketeering, and drug trafficking.[76][77][78]

The late 1980s and 1990s saw further efforts by the FBI to prosecute Chicago's public crime syndicates. Operation Incubator obtained about a dozen convictions or guilty pleas, including those from five members of the City Council and an aide to former Mayor Harold Washington.[79] Later Operation Gambat brought a wide range of charges against a Chicago judge, a state senator, an alderman, and two others relating to corruption in the Cook County Circuit Court, the Illinois Senate, and the Chicago City Council. 4 were convicted and a 5th died during trial.[80] The most extensive operation by the FBI of the 1990s, Operation Silver Shovel, sought to uncover corruption within Chicago labor unions, organized crime, and other city government officials. Operation Silver Shovel resulted in the conviction of 6 Chicago Alderman and a dozen other local officials on a wide range of corruption related charges.[80][81][82]

From 1972 to 2012, 33 Chicago Alderman were convicted on corruption charges, a conviction rate of roughly 1/3 of those elected in the time period. A report from the Office of the Legislative Inspector General noted that over half of Chicago's elected alderman took illegal campaign contributions in 2013.[83] In 2015, Mayor appointed Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was convicted in a 23 million dollar kickback scheme and was sentenced to 7 and a half years in prison.[84]

Quantitative scholarly report that documents the history of Chicago's corruption.

A 2015 report released by the University of Illinois at Chicago's political science department declared Chicago the "corruption capital of America", citing that the Chicago-based Federal Judicial District for Northern Illinois reported 45 public corruption convictions for 2013 and a total of 1,642 convictions for the 38 years since 1976 when the U.S. Department of Justice began compiling the statistics. UIC Professor and former Chicago Alderman Dick Simpson noted in the report that "To end corruption, society needs to do more than convict the guys that get caught. A comprehensive anti-corruption strategy must be forged and carried out over at least a decade. A new political culture in which public corruption is no longer tolerated must be created".[85][86]

Examples of other high profile Chicago political figures convicted on corruption charges include Rod Blagojevich, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Isaac Carothers, Arenda Troutman, Edward Vrdolyak, and Dan Rostenkowski.

The FBI's Chicago division.

In October 2015, the FBI announced that Michael Anderson would be taking over for a retiring Robert Holley as Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Bureau. Anderson, a corruption veteran who wrote the FBI Public Corruption Field Guide, called Chicago "target rich" for cases in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Anderson commands a team of 850 agents in Chicago along with analysts and support staff.[87][88]

Most corruption cases in Chicago are prosecuted by the US Attorney's office, as legal jurisdiction makes most offenses punishable as a federal crime.[89] The current US Attorney for the Northern district of Illinois is Zachary T. Fardon.[90]


A Chicago police officer on a Segway

Chicago was among one of the first U.S. cities to build an integrated emergency response center to coordinate the city's response to natural disasters, gang violence, and terrorist attacks. Built in 1995, the center is integrated with more than 2000 cameras, communications with all levels of city government, and a direct link to the National Counterterrorism Center. Police credited surveillance cameras with contributing to decreased crime in 2004.[91]

In 2003, the Chicago Police Department began installing POD's (Police Observation Devices) in high crime areas. The cameras are able to rotate 360 degrees and zoom to a fine level of detail. The devices are also bullet proof, operable in any weather condition, record continuously and switch into night vision mode after dark. POD's are used to monitor street crimes and direct police deployment. Data from the cameras is wirelessly transmitted to the Chicago Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC) which can individually control any camera.[92][93] Over 20,000 cameras are currently in operation in Chicago. In addition to PODs, often referred to as "blue light cameras" colloquially, the city has added general surveillance cameras to CTA stations, busses, Chicago Housing Authority buildings, public buildings and schools.[94] This has prompted harsh criticism from privacy advocates and the ACLU who called the program "A pervasive and poorly regulated threat to our privacy".[95]

The Chicago Police Department has also been criticized for it's liberal use of the controversial "stop-and-frisk" policy.[96] The policy gives officers much more autonomy to conduct stops and pat-down's if there exists a reasonable suspicion that a suspect might be armed and dangerous.[97] The ACLU has claimed that the policy unfairly targets African Americans, who accounted for nearly 75% of those stopped in 2014 even though they make up only about a third of the city’s population.[98] The Chicago Police Department confiscated almost 7000 firearms in 2014, about 583 per month.[99]

Because the Chicago Police Department tallies data differently than police in other cities, the FBI often does not accept their crime statistics. Chicago police officers record all criminal sexual assaults, as opposed to only rape. They count aggravated battery together with the standard category of aggravated assault. As a result, Chicago is often omitted from studies such as Morgan Quitno's annual "Safest/Most Dangerous City" survey, which relies on FBI-collected data.[100]

The Chicago Police Department developed a tool to assist city residents in problem-solving and combating crime and disorder in their neighborhoods. It is based upon the CLEAR (Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting) system developed by the Department for use by its police officers. This web application enables citizens to search the Chicago Police Department's database of reported crime. Individuals are able to see maps, graphs, and tables of reported crime. The database contains 90 days of information, which can be accessed in blocks of up to 14 days. Data is refreshed daily. However, the most recent information is always 6 days old.

The Chicago Police Department has a long history of using data. Chicago's record number of homicides, with 56 in September 2015, has triggered "guardian-like" intervention, a method for predicting the likelihood that an individual will be involved in violence, either as a victim or perpetrator. The guardian method relies on information from an individual's criminal history in order to “build public trust and legitimacy."[101]

In December 2015, the US Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald case. The "pattern and practice" probe will evaluate the use of force, deadly force, accountability and tracking procedures of the department.[102][103]

Chicago Police crime reporting accuracy[edit]

In 2014 and 2015, Chicago Magazine and The Economist conducted investigations into the CompStat data reporting of crime statistics for the city and reported irregularities. In addition, an audit conducted by Chicago's Office of the Inspector General found significant problems in the accuracy of CPD’s crime data.

According to Chicago Magazine, superiors often pressure officers to under-report crime. An unnamed police source quoted in the magazine says there are “a million tiny ways to do it,” such as misclassifying and downgrading offenses, counting multiple incidents as single events, and discouraging residents from reporting crime.

Chicago Police has responded that their statistics are generally accurate and that the discrepancies can be explained by differences in the Uniform Crime Reporting used by the FBI and CompStat.[104][105][106][107][108]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]