Is Chicago’s Long Crime Decline Too Good to Be True?


In the second part of its exploration of Chicago’s crime numbers, Chicago magazine notes that while murder grabs headlines, the more common non-violent property crimes drive statistics. “You can have a 100 percent reduction in murders, and as sad as this may sound, it won't have anywhere near the effect [on the overall statistics] of a 25 or 30 percent drop in burglaries,” says Jody Weis, Chicago's police chief from 2008 to early 2011. “If you're looking at driving down crime, property crimes are the ones that are going to make a big difference.”

The level of index crime in a city is widely viewed as a gauge of its safety—essentially, its crime report card. “[Low crime] figures serve a political end,” says Eli Silverman, a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “It brings in tourism; it's good for business.” From 1993 through 2010 the average annual decline in the number of FBI index crimes in Chicago was less than 4 percent–numbers that seem too good to be true, the magazine said. One former lieutenant has a name for the system: the washing machine. “They wash and rinse the numbers,” the lieutenant says.

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