(Part 2 is here.)
A Chicago Boyz reader writes:
Recently, two CPD uniformed officers were shot in the head during a traffic stop.
How did this happen? What happened? The detailed answers to these questions will be unfolded as the post-shooting investigation discovers the facts and assembles them into a narrative that “explains” what happened. As is so often the case, the analysis will focus on the actions of the officers, their failures to act as policy or training requires, and their poor performance even when they were acting as they were supposed to. All such analyses are riddled with hindsight bias, and invariably neglect the forces that now shape the interactions of the CPD with the public. You might ask: “What are you talking about?”
Several years ago, the City of Chicago signed a consent decree with the (Obama) Justice Department. The decree required that an officer formulate articulable suspicion prior to initiating any contact with a member of the public. As part of the decree, officers were and are required to fill out a detailed form every time they initiate such an interaction. Failure to fill out the form completely or accurately carries a risk of sanction. Net effect? Contact with the public went down by 80-90%, as did arrests. It turns out that seasoned police officers can talk people into disclosing a lot of information about criminal activity just by talking to them. A conversation that began with a hunch and without articulable suspicion often ended with probable cause for arrest.
No matter, the drop in arrests has become less important. Why?
Because the IL state’s attorney has been dropping charges from arrests where the evidence falls short of a slam-dunk conviction in court. This is the vast majority of cases. Uniformed police officers know this, and refer to it as a “catch-and-release” program. The perpetrators have lost all respect for the police and fear of being arrested. Many know exactly what they need to be released on “decline to prosecute” (Released Without Charges).
One of the problems with our criminal justice system has been that defendants unable to post bail spent enormous amounts of time in jail waiting for their trials. This is economically devastating to them and any dependents they might have. Concern over the injustice perpetrated on poor defendants has prompted the creation and implementation of a low-bail/no-bail system. Of the small number of people that are actually arrested and charged, many or most alleged offenders are released with little or no bail. First time offenders and the accused-but-innocent benefit enormously from this approach. Habitual offenders simply go out and offend again. Thirty years ago the Cook County Jail was overflowing with people waiting for trial. The conditions they lived in were dismal. In 2021, the population of the jail is a fraction of what it was. The majority of those who would have been in jail 30 years ago are now back on the streets, often offending again. In days past, most of those charged with aggravated assault, attempted murder, and murder would face huge bail or remand to custody without bail. At present, anyone whose charges include “manslaughter” (a lesser charge often included to allow a plea bargain) can get out on no or low bail. Given that charges are brought on only a minority of the murders in Chicago (in the 15-30% range), this is a large percentage of those arrested for murder.
Even before COVID, the Illinois State Penitentiary system was releasing prisoners when they had served about half of their sentences.
The net effect of all of the above has been to increase the number of active and violent criminals in the community.
A second effect of this has been this: CPD officers understand that the vast majority of their efforts to enforce the law and protect the community are futile. Filing reports of crimes has become pointless; absent a need for an insurance claim, many uniformed officers discourage people from doing reporting, because it is simply a waste of everyone’s time.
In recent years the city has often attempted to misrepresent or undercount the crime rate in the city, including its murder rate. One way this was done was to classify some murders as “death investigations.” This has prompted the creation of an independent website that is generally regarded as a more reliable source of data than the official numbers.
The best journalism about Chicago’s criminal justice system is at CWB. While it focuses on a small portion of the city, it is a good window into the reality on the streets. They have also accurately recorded the declining manpower of the CPD over the years. The best murder and shooting data is at Hey Jackass. Finally, the Chicago Contrarian and PJ Media publish articles by Second City Cop and Jack Dunphy, both apparently uniformed officers with an insider’s perspective on modern law enforcement. Links below.