The dire conditions under which black residents live in Chicago seem like an insurmountable problem. Gang violence, drugs, poverty, and a poor educational system are endemic in certain areas, and the city’s Democratic leadership does not seem interested in addressing these issues. Of course, the primary issue in Chicago is arguably the outrageous homicide rate.
Most of the violence is related to gang activity. But Chicago is unique among similarly afflicted cities in that its gang violence problem is not just the result of poverty or cultural issues. One of the worst aspects of these homicides is that very few cases are solved, meaning most of the criminals responsible do not face justice.
Chicago’s Unsolved Homicide Rate
While many factors play into the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, the lack of effective policing is a key culprit. When former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in office, he enacted reforms to police procedures that made it far more difficult for law enforcement to solve and prevent crime.
In 1991, Chicago’s police department had an arrest rate of 67% in murder cases. In 2018, that number plummeted to a mere 17%. This means that for 83% of homicides, the murderer is getting away with the crime. To put this in perspective, the national arrest rate for murder is 61%.
There can be no question that this dismal arrest rate contributes to the problem. When criminals know that it is unlikely they will ever be arrested or convicted of a crime, they have no reason to obey the law or restrain themselves. Furthermore, the individuals committing these homicides go on to more violent acts.
So why is Chicago’s clearance rate so low? Does it make sense to place the blame on incompetent policing, or is there more to this story?
Why So Many Unsolved Homicides?
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reforms of the police department, along with the progressive policies of his predecessors, have made it nearly impossible for Chicago’s law enforcement officers to do their jobs. And there are more elements to the deadly equation.
One reason detectives find it challenging to solve murder cases is that residents in high-crime areas are hesitant to speak with police. Many in troubled neighborhoods subscribe to an unwritten code that forbids blacks and other minorities to “snitch” or speak to law enforcement.
Making it easier for people to be wary of communicating with the police is corruption. Many residents in Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities don’t trust law enforcement — and for good reasons. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) has had its share of corruption scandals, many of which don’t get much news coverage.
When former officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014, then-Mayor Emanuel tried to protect the officer by not releasing the bodycam video documenting the incident. Safeguarding law enforcement officials when they overstep boundaries is viewed very negatively in the minority community. But other corruption corrodes trust, too.
Earlier this year, former officer Ronald Watts was sentenced for various offenses, including framing black residents for crimes they did not commit and running a drug racket.
“Watts and his team regularly shook down drug dealers and other residents,” said the judge presiding over the case. “On many occasions, when these residents refused to pay the extortive demands, the Watts crew would fabricate drug charges against them.”
Given the fact that the CPD has a history that reeks of corruption, it is no wonder many residents fear interaction with officers. Afraid of becoming targets, they find it better to avoid law enforcement altogether.
Can This Be Fixed?
It will likely take drastic reforms to decrease the number of homicides in Chicago and step up action to increase the clearance rate of murders. CPD will gain residents’ cooperation only when its members rebuild trust. This requires true accountability when officers abuse their authority. At the same time, however, it is crucial that police are empowered, unhindered by ineffective or misguided city regulations.
When the CPD demonstrates that it will not tolerate corruption within its ranks and prosecutes it vigorously when uncovered, those in beleaguered neighborhoods may feel reassured to work with law enforcement. The bridge of trust must run both ways.