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Aside

Chicago crime statistics doubts adding up

The city’s inspector general, Joseph Ferguson, finalized an audit of the Chicago police department’s 2012 crime data to determine if CPD reported related crime statistics correctly.

From 2010 to 2013, Chicago’s annual “index crimes” dropped a stunning 56 percent, or nearly 19 percent per year, according to data from the Chicago Police Department. Yet, from 1993 to 2010, it dropped by 47 percent.

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“The reduction in crime since Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy arrived in May 2011 is unbelievable”, said some of his detractors.

The superintendent was then suspected to accomplish this huge reduction in part by changing how certain crimes are categorized. The audit is to determine if CPD accurately classified crimes under its written guidelines.

 The curious cases of 2013

On the night of December 27, a 40 years old alleged gang members named Nathaniel Jackson was shot in the head and killed in Austin. The next morning, newscasters proclaimed that Chicago’s murder toll for the year had hit 500- a grim milestone last reached in 2008, during the Great Recession.

By lunchtime, the police department’s spinmeisters at 35th and Michigan had challenged the reports. The actual total, they said, was 499. A murder case earlier in the year had just been reclassified as a death investigation.

That’s just one example of the by-product of the highly regarded crime tracking program.

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The CompStat system

Inaccuracies are hardly a Chicago-specific phenomenon. In the recent past, police departments in many other big cities have admitted to fudging the numbers. Each of those cases can be tracked to the pressures of various versions of one system: CompStat.

Former John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Eli Silverman and Molloy College professor John Eterno believe CompStat has undermined the reliability of American crime reporting system.

“Those people in the CompStat era felt less pressure to maintain the integrity of the crime statistics,” Eterno told the New York Times.

While on the other hand, Jack Maple, the founding father of the system argued that ComStat should have full credit for the dramatic decline in crime rates.

“ It is ludicrous to suggest that a department where the top brass did not even get crime data until six months after the crime and then did nothing with them—as was the case in the pre-CompStat era – cared more about the accuracy of crime statistics than one in which every deployment decision is made based on the minute-by-minute reality  of crime on the streets.” Said Jack in one of his interviews.

The magic ink

Relying on the anonymous responses of hundreds of retired high-ranking police officials, a survey found that tremendous pressure to reduce crime, year after year,  prompted some supervisors and precinct commanders to distort crime statistics. One detective refers to the “magic ink”: the power to make a case disappear.

So who should blame, the system or the people.

“Because the current Chicago Police Department culture is built on a wink-and-nod axiom that crime must only go down—and because careers are made or broken by good or bad “performance”—pressure to reduce crime numbers in this way has become acute at all levels.”Says the Chicago Magazine’s report on The Truth About Chicagos Crime Rates.

2010-2013 Chicago homicide not solved

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