Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Janet Tavakoli Headshot

Crime Statistics in Third World America (Update)

Posted: Updated:
Print

Prologue: This article was published on December 28, 2013. In 2014, Chicago experienced a record number of shootings, many of them were not fatal. Sadly, many young children were shot, and some of those shootings were fatal. On the night of December 19, 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's son was the victim of a strong armed robbery just steps from the mayor's family home. According to the Sun Times review of the report : one assailant got the mayor's son in a choke hold. The other punched the 17-year-old in the face, chipping a tooth and knocking him to the ground. They rifled his pockets and forced him to give them the pass code to his cell phone.

Update: On April 2, 2014, Chicago Magazine published "The Truth About Chicago's Crime Statistics Part One," an exclusive exposé of the "nothing short of miraculous" drop in Chicago's reported crime statistics, Homicide statistics were fudged, and some of the lies are appalling whoppers. Part two was published in May 2014 and told of tens of thousands of non-homicide crimes erased from the statistics: "break-ins, car thefts, muggings, sexual assaults." Meanwhile, the citizens of Chicago were told crime was reduced by double digits, and hiring stopped in the dwindling police force:

"I moved here in 1981, and I have never felt as unsafe as I do now," Lake View resident Michael Smith, 56, an art director at a marketing firm, told Chicago last fall.

In Arianna Huffington's last book, Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, she talked about the Great Recession, the Great Bailout and the Great Cover-Up of financial crimes. When America allows third world tactics to seep into politics, you should question "official" stories.

On November 19, 2013, I attended a screening of Bloomberg News's documentary, Hank about former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's view of the September 2008 financial crisis. During the promised panel discussion prior to showing the film, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former White House Chief of Staff, took the center seat facing the audience, while Hank Paulson, the evening's honoree, and the Bloomberg host sat off to the side in a three-chair semicircle.

The mayor told the audience that Chicago crime was down. What a relief! We've had years of insufficient hiring and training for our over-worked, undermanned and underequipped Chicago police force. This was especially welcome news, since Chicago's credit rating has been suffering downgrade after credit downgrade. The only problem with Mayor Emanuel's announcement is that I don't know anyone who believes it.

Statistical Cross-Check Suggests Mayor's "Lower Crime" Statistics Are Unreliable (Not Really, At Least Not on This Basis, See Update 2)

Since our city leaders love to tout statistics to tell us crime is down, let's see if their statistics stand up to a basic test from additional statistics.

On December 20, an off-duty officer was nearly the victim of an armed robbery until he turned the tables:

A man was taken into custody after trying to rob an off-duty Chicago police officer at knifepoint early this morning, authorities said.

This happened in one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Chicago. The off-duty officer called for assistance, and he and the responding officers took the knife-wielder into custody without anyone being harmed.

Also on December 20, off-duty Cook County Sheriff's Investigator Cuauhtemoc Estrada, a former marine, was shot and killed after he tried to intervene in an armed robbery:

Estrada...was fatally shot Friday night protecting his daughter and her boyfriend from armed robbers outside a holiday party he was hosting at a Bellwood Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.

The criminals in both of these incidents were apparently not seeking out off-duty police officers, they were just engaging in Chicago's routine pervasive crime.

If crime statistics in Chicago are as low as Mayor Rahm Emanuel claims, this should be extremely unlikely. It's so unlikely that everyone should challenge the narrative about Chicago's crime being low or even being managed in any meaningful way.

So Unlikely You Have to Challenge the Veracity of Chicago's Crime Statistics (Again, Not Really, See Update 2)

The population of Chicago is around 2.7 million. In 2011, murders were 431 or around 0.158 / 1,000. Robberies were 13,975 or 5.14/1,000. Out of 1,000 people, roughly 5.28 will be the victim of a robbery and/or murder and 994.7 will not. Let's round it, because we're talking about individuals. So to overstate it slightly, 6/1,000 will be victims of robbery and/or murder. (Rounding up biases this analysis a little in the mayor's favor, since I'm explaining how unlikely an event the off-duty police officer's incidents should be. But the mayor's stats are so suspect that it doesn't matter.)

Full time law enforcement staff was 12,799 of which 12,092 were officers, or 4.47 officers / 1,000 residents. I do not know what percent are off duty at any time, but obviously the number of off-duty officers is lower. Let's put the stats in Rahm's favor and make it more likely for an off-duty officer to be a victim, say 3 officers/1,000 residents are off-duty.

How likely is it that a person is both a victim AND an off-duty officer (assuming independence)?

Using the above statistics, it's not likely at all: (6/1000) * (3/1000) = 0.000018 or 0.0018 percent. In other words, there's only a 0.0018 percent, less than two thousandths of a percent probability of this occurring.

Update 2: Higher Probability Than I Calculated Above

As a colleague pointed out, the calculation I did above is the probability of any given individual, say me, being both an off duty officer and the victim of one or both of these crimes. But that doesn't support my earlier inference about Chicago's crime statistics being underreported. You expect that in a given year, if roughly three-fourths of officers are off-duty on any given day (a guess), i.e., 12,092 * 0.75 = 9,069 are off duty, and 6/1000 are likely to be victims of a crime in any year, then expect 54 off-duty officers to be victims of armed robberies or murders in a given year.

What is the probability of two off-duty officers being victims on the same day if there are 54 victims in a year? It's around 98 percent chance it could happen that two of the 54 are victims on the same day. So it is possible that I just happened upon that occurrence by chance. There isn't enough evidence to suspect all of the major's statistics. But there is reason to question them. If I notice this happening more frequently, I'll revisit this topic. Note that I wasn't looking at this over a period of a year. I was doing a year-end wrap up, because of the Mayor's comments on Nov 19, and then only after returning from a business trip on Dec. 10. My time frame for the snapshot isn't one year but a window of less than three weeks with around a 15 percent chance of two victims on the same day.

Note (Dec 30): Robert VerBruggen, an editor at Real Clear Policy, read my original post (pre-update with the earlier incorrect analysis) and thought this is the "birthday problem." Two wrongs don't make a right; that is not correct for reasons I'll explain in a moment. (You can use the birthday problem calculator if you change the number of incidents and the time period.) Here's why it isn't the "birthday problem." Mayor Emanuel's speech on November 19 inspired me to write something about crime. I returned from a business trip on Dec 10th and was too busy with year-end tax trades to look into it. When I sat down to write, it was Saturday, Dec 21, and I went to Second City Cop Blogspot, the first and only place I looked, because it's handy and talks about Chicago crime. Then bam! I saw there were two off-duty victims on the previous day. That is interesting. There are fewer expected victims (two or three) in this shorter time period and you have to calculate the likelihood of two occurring on the same day in the shorter time period. I'm happy to stretch the time period to 18 days (Dec 10 to the time of my post), but if you want to get technical about it, Saturday, December 21 is one day when I sat down to write the first draft. I also made a lot of assumptions. I don't know whether the shooting death of an officer during a robbery is counted as a homicide -- a less likely event -- or whether it is an armed robbery/homicide. I did some hand waving and said victim of one or both. But it will be interesting to see what the actual numbers are for 2013, i.e., number of off-duty officers and numbers of them that were crime victims, to see if the numbers match expectations given the Mayor's reported crime statistics. It's a knowable unknown, and as I said earlier, I may revisit this.

So what is going on here? Possibly criminals are targeting off-duty police officers (as has happened before), and that means the independence assumption is incorrect. But apparently that isn't what happened in the above two incidents. Even if you tell yourself that it happened in one of the above incidents, that still leaves the other.

Update 2: What is going on is that the crime rate of 6/1000 for these crimes is our "lower" crime rate.

These aren't the only recent crimes involving an off-duty officer as a potential victim. I haven't been keeping track, but I recall an incident in September of this year. A female off-duty officer shot and wounded an intruder and would-be robber:

The officer woke up this morning to a door bell... then heard noises coming from a downstairs bedroom. Police say the officer grabbed her gun and headed downstairs to find a teen rifling through her stuff.

"He turns around, lunges at her. At that point, she fires her weapon, fearing for her life," Camden says.

Neighbors say this is not the first time the officer's home was broken into.

The incidents strongly suggest Chicago's crime statistics aren't anywhere close to reality.

Update 2: Actually, these are close to our reality. What is going on is that the crime rate of 6/1000 for these crimes is our "lower" crime rate.

Update 1:

December 26: "A fight involving eight people was broken up Thursday [December 26] at Orland Square Mall with the help of off-duty law enforcement officers who were out shopping." ("Mall Brawl Quelled with Help from Off-Duty Cops," by Ben Feldheim, Tinley Park Patch).

December 27: Second City Cop has a post, "Winter Wilding Season," of apparently an off-duty officer's eye-witness account of a thug wilding involving hundreds at North Riverside Mall on Friday, December 27.

Beating an Almost-Mayor Into a Statistic

The Chicago area isn't alone in having problems at the mall. The Democratic runner up in the Minneapolis mayoral race might have something to add about crime statistics, he became one when he was brutally beaten on Thursday evening:

Mark Andrew, 63, was at a Starbucks inside the mall at around 7 p.m. Thursday when a man grabbed his phone off his table and ran off.

When Andrew went after him, he was tackled by two teenage girls -- aged 18 and 17 -- one of which began beating him with a billy club. During the attack, they told Andrew, "We're going to kill you," police say.

MSN's 15 Best Cities: None Is In the United States

What we tolerate as "normal" for U.S. cities may be the reason that no U.S. city made MSN's list of the 15 best cities in the world. One of my well-traveled friends read the list and remarked: "To me they were almost unbelievable / fairytale because as an American, I'd assumed cities are full of [severe social problems.]"

Happy New Year! Chicago Hopes It Is Better Than 2013

Monica Davey at The New York Times wrote this January 1 report:

As of Dec. 30, [Chicago] had reported 413 homicides, about a 17 percent drop from the year before and the fewest to date since 1965.

Sounds great, until you take a closer look.

In 2013 the number of Chicago homicides was reported as 413. According to the report: "The official murder tally does not include certain types of deaths, such as those deemed self-defense." 2012 saw a big uptick in homicides to 516 versus 435 in 2011 and 436 in 2010. It's good that the number of murders is more in line with 2010 and 2011.

But if you want to compare Chicago homicides in 2013 with 1965, you need to look at the murder rate. That's because Chicago has lost population. In 2013, Chicago's population is the lowest it has been since 1920.

Homicide Rate Is Up (Not Down) More than 30 percent versus 1965.

In 1965 there were 395 homicides and the population of Chicago was between 3,550,404 (1960) and 3,366,957 (1970). In 2013 the population of Chicago was estimated at 2,715,000 and the number of homicides was 413.

The homicide rate (per thousand) for Chicago is up more than 30 percent (30 percent-36 percent) from 1965.

How Are Mob Action Assaults Counted?

Corpses and gunshots aren't the only way we measure crime.

How do we measure mob action when hundreds flee?

How does Chicago measure crime when flash mobs rob stores?

A dominant topic at Thanksgiving and Christmas parties was that the streets of Chicago are more dangerous and less civil than at any time in the last ten years, and this is supposed to be progress.

See Also:

"How to Thwart the Assassins of the American Dream" - August 15, 2010

"Third World America: Fast Tracking to Anarchy" - August 25, 2010

"Third World America 2011: Forget Fast Tracking to Anarchy, We've Arrived" - June 8, 2011

"Third World America: Drowning in Debt and Choking on Lies" - June 24, 2011

"Third World America 2012: A Country at War With Itself" - July 6, 2012

"Crime and Mayhem in the USA" - August 1, 2012

Endnote: This post is based on my commentary: "Chicago Crime Statistics Seem a Fiction Story."