THE BLOG
03/18/2011 11:36 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Big Myth About Chicago Violence

After surviving the blizzard of 2011, it is fair to say that Chicagoans have suffered with cabin fever. But it is not fair to blame the recent spike in violence on warm weather. As journalists, we should know better than that. Yet, this time every year the same headlines feature such verbiage.

On the same day the city had a wave of shootings, people celebrated St. Patrick's Day. Does that mean that seeing March 17 on the calendar serves as a mandate for public drunkenness and unruly behavior? Of course not. Why? Because people have the power of choice. Plus, there are greater things in a person's external environment which have a greater affect on behavior than just warm temperatures.

The Cultural Deficit Model

Dr. Carl Bell believes in the concept of collective responsibility. He feels that the problem of one person should not be blamed on any one person or group but ALL who see the problem and fail to correct it. For the past 36 years, Dr. Bell has become a leading expert in urban violence as the head of the Community Mental Health Council in the city's Pill Hill neighborhood, as well as the Director of the Institute of Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Simply put, the man knows what he is talking about. He feels that we should focus on what keeps people from going crazy rather than what makes them crazy.

This is why we can't blame warm weather for bad behavior. Instead, we should blame ourselves if we are not doing everything we can to create better communities for people to live in. I don't know about you, but a sunny day has never made me angry. In addition to that, Chicago has shootings all time of the year -- including right after 20-plus inches of snow fell on the city. As a result, we must look deeper into the psychographic aspects (referring to lifestyles and values) rather than demographic variables (race, gender, income level).

The Chicago Police Department is experimenting with a system that uses a combination of psychographic and demographic factors to predict crime. A new crime-forecasting unit within the department was able to predict a shooting before it happened last year. And I'm sure the weather was not the main reason for their prediction. They looked at the attitudes of individuals in the area (a psychographic variable) and weighed that against the demographics of the particular neighborhood.

Fortunately, any statistics professor will tell you that correlation does not equal causation. Just because warm weather correlates with a rise in temperatures does not mean the two are directly related; the two numbers just sometimes rise at the same rate.

Let's use a combination of psychological research and police intelligence to fight this war on violence. The last time I checked, WGN's Tom Skilling is not a criminologist -- he is a meteorologist. Leave the weather to the experts.