A flurry of late-year stories focused on the fact that for the first time since 2008, the number of murders in Chicago topped 500.
According to the RedEye (a local free paper published by the Tribune Company, geared to the 18-35 crowd), the final homicide total was 513. Given there were only 433 murders in 2011, the 513 number is a significant spike from the previous year. Thus, the million dollar question: why the spike in murders?
One theory is warm weather. March had eight days of temperatures over 80 degrees (very hot for Chicago in March) and 52 murders. For the previous five years, March averaged about 28 murders. Warmer weather means more people out of their homes, on the streets, and thus a greater chance of conflict. So what conflicts caused so many murders?
The Chicago Police Department’s assessment is that many of these murders were “gang related,” and the result of gang turf wars isolated in a few neighborhoods on the South and West sides. Gang experts, like CeaseFire (an outreach organization employing former gang members who interact with current gang members and try to mediate conflicts in nonviolent ways) say that the violence is not part of a larger gang war. They argue that the violence is due to unrelated interpersonal disputes (e.g., girlfriend issues and gambling debts) between individuals who just happen to be gang members. In reality, it's probably a little of both.
To me, the spike in murders was just the most visible proof that the crime rate in Chicago was up in 2012, not down as the police claim. Any claims to the contrary, regardless of the available statistics, are suspect (think Season 5 of the Wire) and just do not pass the smell test. There were more homicides, more shootings, more robberies on CTA buses and trains, more flash mob style robberies of stores and pedestrians, and seemingly less police presence.
In talking with some officers, I’ve learned the city is apparently unable to hire enough patrolmen due to budgetary issues (of the roughly 12,000 sworn officers, apparently only about 9,000 are patrolmen). This is not enough to adequately patrol a city the size of Chicago.
So what caused the spike in murders? My answer: some warm weather and a city with too few police officers to adequately deter criminal conduct.