The rise in violent crime in Chicago has boiled over, drawing concern from business leaders and leading to political infighting among those charged with keeping the city safe.
“We were in the midst of a post-pandemic recovery downtown and starting to see shoppers return, and office vacancies were finally starting to go down and right at that moment we started to see crime,” said City Alderman Brian Hopkins. “If crime continues to increase, I think you’ll start to see the economic recovery stall.”
Though overall crime is down so far this year compared with the same time a year ago, there has been an increase in homicides, sexual assaults and theft, including of motor vehicles.
Several downtown developers are having difficulty marketing properties because violence has spread throughout the city, giving it a negative reputation, Hopkins said.
Crime in the city and its potential impact on business, especially downtown, was thrust into the spotlight this week after hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin said the violence might lead him to move the corporate headquarters of his investment firm, Citadel, to New York.
Crime is a top concern for all stores and merchants, said Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. He said some businesses already have left Chicago in the past year, in part due to violence.
Though he hasn’t heard grumblings from companies planning to relocate, Jack Lavin, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said film industry executives and other companies interested in bringing business to Chicago have been inquiring about crime. Chamber members have also mentioned that some employees worry about leaving the office at night.
As the downtown business community goes, so goes the rest of Chicago.
The central business district downtown is critical to citywide operations with about one-third of all city employees working there, so maintaining its viability is important, business leaders say.
“This is a key economic engine for the city of Chicago and the gateway to the city where tourists come and where companies think of locating headquarters,” Lavin said. “We need to make it safe and that people can trust in public safety.”
But there are those who believe the city’s bad reputation is hurting downtown stores more than the crime rate itself.
Kiana DiStasi, spokeswoman for the Chicago Loop Alliance, which promotes downtown businesses, said negative headlines and public perception were affecting the downtown area, but it still feels safe and patrons are having a good experience.
“We really do feel that when more people come downtown, it’s safer and less crime,” she said.
DiStasi pointed to eight consecutive Sundays in which the alliance sponsored a block party during the summer with an average of 67,000 attendees and no crime.
“Yes, people’s perception of crime downtown impacts businesses. But how much crime is rampant is unclear,” she said.
There have been 53 homicides in downtown Chicago this year, compared with 51 this time last year, crime stats show.
In 2019, before the nationwide surge in killings, just 28 homicides had been reported in the area. There have been 1,369 robberies in 2021, a 9 percent increase over this time last year, though down from recent years’ highs.
Lavin said that while reports of crime are high, some of it may be overstated.
“People in the city know it’s an issue, but the perception out there is greater than it is,” Lavin said.
Meanwhile, the rise in crime has caused strife between city and state leaders.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx verbally sparred this week, with each criticizing the other over a fatal shooting last week that resulted in five suspects being released without charges.