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Evidence Mounts on Crime Spikes

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Many people   -- including law enforcement officials, bloggers here, and Heather MacDonald at the Manhattan Institute -- have been raising alarms that increasing numbers of innocent people are being needlessly victimized due to ill-considered policy changes (e.g., California's "realignment" and Prop. 47) and the "Ferguson Effect" of police holding back as they come under hyper-scrutiny.  Soft-on-crime apologists have responded that the data are too tentative and too anecdotal to draw such conclusions.  That answer did have some validity initially, but it wears increasingly thin as data accumulate.

In Chicago, the local variant of the Ferguson Effect might be called the McDonald Effect.  The number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight (who definitely do not lean conservative) have concluded that the numbers have reached the threshold that they can't be brushed off like that any more.  Rob Arthur and Jeff Asher have this post.
CHICAGO -- The severe spike in gun violence Chicago is experiencing can be dated to the release of the video in the Laquan McDonald case, a FiveThirtyEight analysis of crime data shows. The same analysis shows that the city has seen a significant drop in arrests made for homicides and nonfatal shootings, as well as other crimes, since the video's release on Nov. 24. This suggests a decline in law enforcement activity that may be contributing to the rise in gun crime.
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After some cities saw a rise in crime last year, police chiefs and even the head of the FBI suggested that the United States was experiencing a "Ferguson effect": Police officers sensitive to public scrutiny in the wake of protests over the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, were pulling back on police work, the theory went, and emboldened criminals were seizing their chance. The evidence for any such effect nationally was mixed -- our colleague Carl Bialik analyzed crime data from 60 major cities in September and found an increase in homicides in some places, but a decrease in others. Chicago had seen a 20 percent increase in homicides from the year before, but, as Carl noted, crime statistics are volatile.

The spike in gun violence in Chicago since the end of November, though, is too sharp to be explained by seasonal fluctuations or chance. There have been 175 homicides and approximately 675 nonfatal shooting incidents1 from Dec. 1 through March 31, according to our analysis of city data.2 The 69 percent drop in the nonfatal shooting arrest rate and the 48 percent drop in the homicide arrest rate since the video's release also cannot be explained by temperature or bad luck. Even though crime statistics can see a good amount of variation from year to year and from month to month, this spike in gun violence is statistically significant, and the falling arrest numbers suggest real changes in the process of policing in Chicago since the video's release.

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