All too often, our city’s South and West sides are used as examples to justify an increase in policing. The violence in our neighborhoods, some argue, demands widespread surveillance and punishment.
But as Black women who live and were brought up in the South Side, it’s quite clear to us that pumping money and resources into the police is failing to stem violence.
In fact, the Chicago Police Department’s ability to solve crimes in our neighborhoods is declining, despite the department’s enormous $1.9 billion budget. CPD solved just 45% of all homicides in 2020, which means the department has one of the worst murder clearance records in the nation.
And that’s just the average: Neighborhood-level data reveals clearance rates are significantly lower in majority-Black and Brown communities — less than half the rates in predominantly white communities.
Clearance rates, or the percentage of crimes actually solved by the police, are a critical way to evaluate department effectiveness and ensure police accountability and community trust. But clearance rates very seldom come up in discussions on policing and public safety.
According to data analyzed by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, in 2021, the homicide clearance rate (not including those cases in which the murder is considered cleared but charges were not filed because of extenuating circumstances, such as death of the offender) in predominantly white communities was 43%, compared to 25% in Latino communities and only 22% in predominantly Black communities. It’s also important to note that solving older cases can inflate clearance rates for a given year, which means the clearance rate for crimes committed in a given year is likely lower.
This is personal, and encompasses crimes besides murder. In January, Juanita’s god-sister Tamiko Talbert-Fleming was shot and killed in front of her place of work. Her best friend’s daughter and grandchildren were recently seriously injured when a shooting on the expressway caused a horrific car accident. Another friend’s son was shot last month in a road rage incident. At eight years old, yet another friend’s grandson was shot in the back and paralyzed in 2019. And five years ago, Juanita’s own son was shot in the face.
We can list dozens more instances of such violence that hit close to home. All in Chicago. All unsolved.
What happened to recommendations?
Improving clearance rates is urgent as well as personal. Homicides are currently down overall from last year, but 2022 is already among the most violent in the past 10 years. So far this year, there has been a 55% increase in the number of women shot and killed.
If data suggested a government program was inefficient, officials would rightly put reforms in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are well-spent and the community is properly served. So it’s reasonable to use clearance rates to determine CPD’s effectiveness at public safety, and what steps can be taken to improve.
In fact, CPD was given 89 such recommendations in 2019 from the Police Executive Research Forum. Those recommendations came after a long, thorough review of CPD’s homicide investigation practices with an eye toward improving clearance rates and accountability. But to this day, there have been few details shared publicly about changes to improve policing and public safety.
This isn’t simply a question of bureaucratic effectiveness, or a lack thereof. With every crime that goes unsolved, another family is left yearning for answers, for clarity, for reason. Another neighbor is left traumatized. Another person is thrust into the cycle of violence, trauma, and poverty that plagues our communities.
Increasing clearance rates won’t singlehandedly solve our city’s gun violence problem or create a more just legal system. But improving clearance rates establishes a baseline for accountability, and would provide a foundation for greater community trust.
Over the next several months, LIVE FREE Illinois will hold a number of listening sessions with community members, decision-makers, stakeholders, and subject matter experts with the goal of developing a set of recommendations that will hold CPD and City Council accountable for improving homicide clearance rates.
CPD’s massive budget far outweighs our city’s investment in community-led violence prevention. With nearly $2 billion coming from taxpayers, city officials must ensure CPD is working effectively and in the best interests of our safety.
Rev. Ciera Bates-Chamberlain is executive director of LIVE FREE Illinois. Juanita Bates is an Englewood native and lifelong South Side resident.
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