Chicago’s Murder Rate Drops to 50-Year Low, Fueling Debate

After the nation had grown accustomed to seeing Chicago consumed by violence, the recent announcement that the city’s homicide rate is at its lowest in 50 years has prompted debate over the larger meaning behind the numbers.

In an article on Slate.com, writer Justin Peters says the 34 percent drop in the homicide rate compared to the previous year is not sustainable because Chicago can’t continue to pay for police overtime.

“To the extent that the decline in the murder rate is attributable to police tactics, we can credit [police Superintendent Garry] McCarthy’s decision earlier this year to flood several crime-ridden ‘impact zones’ with hundreds of cops pulling overtime duty,” Peters writes.

“Saturating high-crime areas with more cops does drop crime rates in the short term. But the overtime money in Chicago is almost gone — as the Times reports, Chicago has already spent $32 million of the year’s $38 million overtime budget.”

With two murders last weekend in Chicago, the homicide total thus far this year is 146, which is 34 percent lower than in 2012 when there were 506 murders, the highest level in a decade.

But as Jon Terbush points out on TheWeek.com, last year’s high numbers were an anomaly because the homicides had been falling steadily since the early 1990s—as they have been in most major U.S. cities.

There were 928 murders in Chicago in 1991 and 943 in 1992.

By 2004, Terbush writes, the murder tally had dropped to 453, and it’s stayed in that range ever since.

“These numbers are progress, but they are by no means victory,” Chicago Police Superintendent McCarthy said last month.

In addition to the expanded police presence, city officials are also pointing to the confiscation of guns as a reason for the decline. City Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in May that police had already confiscated some 2,500 illegal firearms this year.

“It’s also likely that Chicago’s falling murder rate is reflective of a general downward trend in the nation as a whole,” Terbush writes. “A preliminary analysis of crime data nationwide found that, through mid-May, the U.S. was on track to post its lowest murder rate since the turn of the century. Even if that pace doesn’t hold up, Chicago’s improving murder statistics over the past two decades still coincide nicely with a similar trend in the nation as a whole.”

But Peters says it may just come down to the weather.

“The drop in Chicago’s murder rate correlates to an unseasonably cold winter and spring this year,” he writes. “Plenty of evidence indicates that crime rates tend to rise and fall along with the temperature. Instead of chewing through the CPD’s overtime budget, maybe the city would be better off just buying everyone in the impact zones some air conditioners.”

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