Why Chicago? What, specifically, do we see in the history of the city, in its style of governance, in its organization of neighborhoods, in its geography, in its policing which makes it different from New York City? It is one thing to note the high homicide rate. But why?
Why Chicago? There's no simple answer.
I should say at the outset that we are hardly the most dangerous city in America. We're in the middle of the pack for large cities. There's nothing happening here that people in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, or Milwaukee aren't seeing. Our homicide rate is also below what it was 5, 10, 15, or 20 years ago (see the graph). But you can see that our homicide rate is a bit over half what it was in the early 1990s. The uptick in 2012 partly reflected random factors such as high homicide rates linked with warm weather during the early months of the year.
We still face some serious challenges. We have many more guns on the street than New York does. Per capita, CPD seizes roughly six times the guns that NYPD does.
My Crime Lab colleagues are exploring opportunities to disrupt underground gun markets. We believe that there are some real opportunities to deter straw purchasers, identify corrupt gun sellers, and more, Obviously, more work needs to be done there.
New York may be a bit ahead of Chicago in implementing innovative law enforcement strategies. Our new police superintendent is implementing some of these strategies now, and he seems on the right track. He bears some historical burdens, including such episodes as the Jon Burge police misconduct cases.
Chicago also has a pretty entrenched set of gang issues -- which is sometimes a factor in youths' gaining access to lethal weapons. Law enforcement has done a pretty good job in recent years of decapitating the major criminal organizations. Ironically, this creates new risks of violence. When once we had hierarchical organizations with a strong stake in avoiding mayhem, we now have a set of much more fractionated cliques that feud with each other and have less of a stake in containing violence.
And, of course, we have a highly segregated city with a tough history of educational failure, and deep poverty. This history was exemplified by high-rise projects such as the Robert Taylor Homes, which so scarred the landscape along highway 94. Many of these high-rises have been torn down. I believe this had to be done. It also created new challenges. I haven't seen solid numbers on this. It's clear that the relocation of so many low-income families has disrupted gang boundaries and has stressed neighborhoods within Chicago and within the collar communities just beyond the city line.
We can't use these fundamental factors as an excuse to wait in reducing crime. Indeed, crime reduction is essential to address business development and improved educational opportunities in our toughest neighborhoods. I take some heart from New York's experience. New York witnessed deep crime reductions in very poor neighborhoods that experienced many of the same economic and educational problems we see in Chicago.