By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

The City of Chicago is getting outsized attention for its growing wave of violent crime, but based on recent data reported by University of Chicago researcher Jens Ludwig in the Chicago Tribune, the city’s homicides deserve even more scrutiny.

Comparable data shows Chicago’s homicide rate in 2021 (annualized) is six times larger than New York’s and three times bigger than Los Angeles’. Chicago has lost nearly 30 people per 100,000 in population to homicides compared to ten in Los Angeles and just five in New York.

Ludwig’s data largely dismisses the narrative that Chicago’s increase in homicides is just part of the national trend seen in the last two years.

As the below graphic shows, Chicago’s homicide rate broke ranks from New York and Los Angeles’ in the 1990s and never dropped to the lower levels experienced by the bigger two cities over the next two decades.

There are plenty of experts who downplay Chicago’s current numbers by saying that the 1990’s rates were worse, or by comparing Chicago’s rates to smaller cities like St. Louis, Baltimore or New Orleans. But Chicago has always demanded it be compared to the two bigger coastal cities on a host of issues – and on homicides, it’s failing badly.

The other key data point from Ludwig’s analysis is the growing disparity between Chicago’s racial demographics.

Homicides are down for whites and Hispanics, but not for blacks, compared to the peak in the 1990s. In fact, the data shows that it’s black deaths driving the overall increase in Chicago. Black homicides were at a 30-year high in 2020, at 78.3 per 100,000 population. In the 1990s, the rate peaked around 70.

In contrast, Hispanic homicide rates are down about 30 percent, even when taking into account the recent jump, and white rates are down 65 percent compared to the early 1990s. Homicide rates in 2021 for Hispanics and whites were at 15.3 and 2.9 per 100,000, respectively.

Ludwig’s analysis also dismisses all the usual explanations for Chicago’s higher levels of homicide:

“It’s natural to think that the most important factors that affect gun violence, such as funding for public schools, racial and economic segregation, or gun availability and gun laws, must also explain the safety gap across cities. But as best as we can tell in the data, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Instead, Ludwig says the gap between the big cities may relate to Los Angeles and New York shifting “to a more professionalized organization.” Both embraced “a reduction in cronyism in appointments and promotions, better officer training, data-driven management systems and efforts to increase officer and departmental accountability” to a degree that Chicago has not. The result for Los Angeles has been a steady decline in its homicide rate as public support for police has increased.

Meanwhile, a Wirepoints/ROCR opinion poll on policing conducted in October 2020 indicated over half of Chicagoans had a negative opinion of the CPD, with more than 60 percent of South Siders having a poor or not so good opinion. However, instead of wanting less police presence, most Chicagoans also want more officers on the street. Nearly 80 percent of residents indicated they wanted police to spend more or the same amount of time in their neighborhood. 

While professionalized policing might be part of the solution in Chicago, what all of the above shows is that incremental steps are not going to cut it. The homicide rate is far too extreme.

What it also shows is that change is possible. Ludwig’s data finds New York and Los Angeles managed to drop their homicide rates by 83 and 64 percent, respectively. 

That’s a good target to demand from Chicago officials.