Progressives and their media allies have launched a campaign to deny the ‘Ferguson effect’—but it’s real, and it’s increasingly deadly for inner cities.
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Murders and shootings have spiked in many American cities—and so have efforts to ignore or deny the crime increase. The see-no-evil campaign eagerly embraced a report last month by the Brennan Center for Justice called “Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis.” Many progressives and their media allies hailed the report as a refutation of what I and others have dubbed the “Ferguson effect”— cops backing off from proactive policing, demoralized by the ugly vitriol directed at them since a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., last year. Americans are being asked to disbelieve both the Ferguson effect and its result: violent crime flourishing in the ensuing vacuum.
In fact, the Brennan Center’s report confirms the Ferguson effect, while also showing how clueless the media are about crime and policing.
The Brennan researchers gathered homicide data from 25 of the nation’s 30 largest cities for the period Jan. 1, 2015, to Oct. 1, 2015. (Not included were San Francisco, Indianapolis, Columbus, El Paso and Nashville.) The researchers then tried to estimate what 2015’s full-year homicide numbers for those 25 cities would be, based on the extent to which homicides were up from January to October this year compared with the similar period in 2014.
The resulting projected increase for homicides in 2015 in those 25 cities is 11%. (By point of comparison, the FiveThirtyEight data blog looked at the 60 largest cities and found a 16% increase in homicides by September 2015.) An 11% one-year increase in any crime category is massive; an equivalent decrease in homicides would be greeted with high-fives by politicians and police chiefs. Yet the media have tried to repackage that 11% homicide increase as trivial.
Several strategies are employed to play down the jump in homicides. The simplest is to hide the actual figure. An Atlantic magazine article in November, “Debunking the Ferguson Effect,” reports: “Based on their data, the Brennan Center projects that homicides will rise slightly overall from 2014 to 2015.” A reader could be forgiven for thinking that “slightly” means an increase of, say, 2%. Nothing in the Atlantic write-up disabuses the reader of that mistaken impression. The website Vox, declaring the crime increase “bunk,” is similarly discreet about the actual homicide rate, leaving it to the reader’s imagination. Crime & Justice News, published by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, coyly admits that “murder is up moderately in some places” without disclosing what that “moderate” increase may be.
A second strategy for brushing off the homicide surge is to contextualize it over a long period. Because homicides haven’t returned to their appalling early 1990s or early 2000s levels, the current crime increase is insignificant, the Brennan Center and its media supporters suggest, echoing an argument that arose immediately after I first documented the Ferguson effect nationally.
“Today’s murder rates are still at all-time historic lows,” write the Brennan researchers. “In 1990 there were 29.3 murders per 100,000 residents in these cities. In 2000, there were 13.8 murders per 100,000. Now, there are 9.9 murders per 100,000 residents. Averaged across the cities, we find that while Americans in urban areas have experienced more murders this year than last year, they are safer than they were five years ago and much safer than they were 25 years ago.”
According to a Gallup poll, Americans worry more about getting hacked than they do about any other crime:
69 percent of Americans worry about their credit cards being hacked and 62 percent worry about the theft of data from their computers — far higher than the share who report worrying about more grievous crimes such as burglary and murder.
Americans’ fears aren’t wholly unfounded. There have been a number of large-scale attacks in recent years, compromising millions of user’s data. The chart below shows how many millions of users have been affected by the biggest data breaches on record:
This is the first Gallup poll to ask about hacking worries, and thus the firm has no historical data to show when or how quickly it came to dominate Americans’ fears. But these statistics do reflect the increase in cybercrime and decline in other crimes in recent years. As the rate of violent crime has gradually decreased over the past 20 years, security breaches among businesses have gone up.
85 percent of households earning above $75,000 a year reported worrying about a credit card hack, as opposed to only 50 percent of households earning under $30,000 a year. Hacking typically worries people from higher income groups more because they are likelier to have access to credit cards and cloud computing.
Chicago’s deadly, gun-fueled holiday weekend was only marginally worse than last year’s deadly, gun-fueled holiday weekend.
Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in Chicago, 82 people were shot in an 84-hour window, according to the Chicago Tribune. Fourteen were dead by Monday morning, including two boys, aged 14 and 16, who were killed by police in separate incidents when they allegedly refused to drop their guns. Things were so chaotic Sunday night that officers responding to the spasm of violence reportedly kept interrupting one another on their radios to report still newer bursts of gunfire. The string of shootings garnered national media attention and prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to plead with residents on Monday to put down their guns. “Wherever you are, wherever you live, the gun violence that was part of this weekend is totally unacceptable,” Emanuel told a gathering of concerned citizens on the city’s South Side, where many of the shootings took place.
How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory narratives? On the one had, the stats suggest that violent crime is falling in Chicago; on the other, the Windy City remains riddled by gang-related violence. The Fourth’s bloody toll wasn’t even unusual. Just last year, more than 70 people were shot, 13 of whom were killed, during the same four-day stretch. Things were slightly better in 2012, with at least 8 people killed. All told, if you tally the homicides in Chicago over the Thursday-to-Sunday window closest to July 4, this year’s long weekend was the eighth since 2002 to see double-digit murders, according to the city’s own statistics.
The sad reality is that by the time July 4, 2015, rolls around, we will have largely forgotten this past weekend’s violence. We’ve already done so for last year’s Independence Day. The fact that this past holiday weekend was only marginally worse than last year’s was a detail largely missing from much of the coverage this week. Even the Tribune, which provided by far the most detailed coverage of the shootings in real time, failed to mention the comparison in itsonline report on Monday and made only a passing, vague reference to it in its otherwise-comprehensive front-page follow-up the next day. Likewise, few reports bothered to mention a similar string of shootings less than three months ago that left 9 dead and 36 others injured over Easter weekend.
The media might have a short memory when it comes to Chicago violence, but the city’s Police Department appears to go to great lengths to willfully forget. Chicago magazine published a two-part investigation this year that detailed how the department appeared to be using pretty much every trick in the CompStat book to artificially deflate the city’s homicide and violent crime numbers. The reporters, David Bernstein and Noah Isackson, were able to identify 10 people “who were beaten, burned, suffocated, or shot to death in 2013 and whose cases were reclassified as death investigations, downgraded to more minor crimes, or even closed as noncriminal incidents—all for illogical or, at best, unclear reasons.” Given more time and better access, the article implies, the two reporters could have found plenty more examples of what would be considered murders by everyone but the police. The magazine’s investigation likewise documented that the police used similar tricks to depress the city’s larger violent crime rate.
McCarthy has brushed off those allegations as “absolute nonsense,” butChicago magazine isn’t alone in making them. A recent audit from the city’s inspector general that focused on assault-related incidents found that police were counting crimes with multiple victims as a single offense, an accounting trick that led to an underreporting of victims by 24 percent in the sample studied. That means a shooting that left a half-dozen people injured—as several did this past weekend—might register in the police books as a single shooting incident. Put another way, recent history suggests that there’s a realistic chance that by this time next year, the dead and injured from this past July Fourth won’t be fully counted in Chicago’s official crime statistics.
Even if a portion of the recent drop in crime numbers is due to a statistical sleight of hand, most observers agree that violent crime is indeed falling in the Chicago, as it is in most major cities. But the overall numbers obscure the fact that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and much of the violence has been sequestered in poor, predominantly black areas of the city where gang violence goes largely unnoticed unless it comes in bunches, as it did this past weekend. After crunching the homicide numbers for 2000 through 2010, Yale University sociologist Andrew Papachristos found that the murder rate was about 3.1 per 100,000 residents living in the Northwest side’s Jefferson Park. Less than 10 miles away in West Garfield Park, the rate was more than 20 times that, a staggering 64 per 100,000, or roughly in line with the casualty rate for civilians in Iraq at the height of the last war. When people describe parts of Chicago as urban war zones, it is not hyperbole.
Seven aldermen on the City Council have called for an investigation into how the Police Department keeps its books, and an ACLU lawsuit against the city on behalf of a West Side community group claiming that the city doesn’t deploy police equitably across neighborhoods continues to wind its way through court.
Meanwhile, the violence continues. On Tuesday, the day after Emanuel spoke on the South Side, two more people died from gunshot wounds suffered over the weekend, and at least 11 more people were shot, including a 23-year-old riding his bike and a 17-year-old boy who was walking through a park with a group of friends. The teen was set to start college orientation on Thursday. Both died at the respective scenes.