Why Do Chicago Police Solve So Few Hit and Runs? One Investigation Points to Major Issues – NBC Chicago
Chicago sees an average of more than 100 hit-and-runs each day, with thousands of crashes every year causing injuries and even deaths, city data shows. But those cases are rarely solved – even with seemingly obvious clues.
Of the roughly 37,000 hit-and-run crashes the city saw in 2021, Chicago police made arrests in just 95 cases, according to city data obtained and analyzed by NBC 5 Investigates. That’s an arrest rate of 0.3% – just three arrests out of every 1,000 crashes.
Compare that to Los Angeles, where the city’s most recent reported overall arrest rate was 8%.
Even if you isolate just the most serious of cases – the crashes that caused deaths and debilitating injuries – the Chicago Police Department’s own records show they made arrests in just 2.3% of those hit-and-runs last year.
For comparison, officers in the New York Police Department made an arrest in 25.8% of their most serious hit-and-run crashes in 2021 – a rate that’s more than 10 times that of Chicago police.
The troubling question: Why do Chicago police solve so few hit-and-runs, even in cases where they are given overwhelming amounts of evidence?
In one case, court records, police reports, emails and more obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show that the prime suspect repeatedly slipped through the fingers of police.
At around 11:44 pm on Dec. 2, 2020, 70-year-old Christine Campbell was leaving her job at Northwestern Memorial Hospital when she was killed in a hit-and-run crash at the intersection of Columbus and Lower Wacker Drive in the city’s Loop.
“Whatever she was to you, she was your favorite,” her son Herman Campbell said. “If she was your friend, she was your best friend. If she was your aunt, she was your favorite aunt.”
One month away from retirement, Christine Campbell was headed south on Columbus when she was broadsided by another car. The driver of the other vehicle jumped out and fled the scene on foot, leaving the car behind.
That night, police impounded the abandoned car and knew who owned it, listing his name in the crash report: 20-year-old Marcel Windham.
“Right away I said, ‘Okay, so this is the car that hit her and you know who owns the car – if the owner wasn’t driving, I’m sure he knows who was,” Herman Campbell said. “You know where he lives and everything so it shouldn’t be long before he’s caught.”
It would be 14 months before Windham was charged in connection with the crash. In February of this year, he was charged with three felonies, including reckless homicide with a motor vehicle and failure to report an accident resulting in death. He has pleaded not guilty.
NBC 5 Investigates obtained records showing police not only knew where Windham was from the very night of the crash, they had actually identified him in surveillance video from the crash site.
“After conducting a comparison of the male subject captured on surveillance footage and IClear photo for the Buick registered owner Marcel D. WINDHAM… both subjects are believed to be one in the same,” a complaint for a search warrant reads. “Subjects were followed via private surveillance and Chicago Police Department POD video from the crash scene.”
Hundreds of pages of court records and documents obtained by NBC 5 Investigates also reveal that Chicago police arrested Windham five times on unrelated offenses in the months between the crash and when he was eventually charged.
Herman Campbell said he was completely unaware of the fact that CPD picked Windham up on so many other occasions, even though he said he called the lead investigator assigned to the case “at least four times a week.”
“I called so much that they came up with a reason for me to stop calling,” he said. “They said, ‘We can’t give any information over the phone because we don’t know if that’s the perpetrator trying to find out what we know about him.'”
“To my understanding, they never seen him, talked to him, or anything,” Herman Campbell added.
Newly obtained emails reveal the steps Chicago police took in a deadly hit-and-run case — only after NBC 5 Investigates started asking questions. Phil Rogers reports.
NBC 5 Investigates also found Windham was on parole on the night of the fatal accident, and tallied more than 30 encounters he had with local law enforcement in those 14 months, including dozens of court appearances on other cases.
While Christine Campbell’s family said police told them they were awaiting results from DNA analysis to prove Windham was driving the car that night, court records show both Windham’s DNA and his fingerprints were already on file from prior criminal cases.
“I have a question: who’s accountable for that? Who’s held accountable for all these mishaps?” Herman Campbell asked.
For months, Chicago police have refused NBC 5’s repeated requests for an interview on this case and several others, as well as their low clearance rate on hit-and-runs overall.
But the investigation into the crash that killed Christine Campbell points to much larger issues.
NBC 5 Investigates obtained data on every fatal hit-and-run we could find since 2017: at least 143 crashes killing 148 people.
Out of those, there have been just 46 arrests. At least 10 of those turned themselves in and 17 more were arrested the same day – some within minutes after they fled the scene.
That leaves just 19 arrests made after police work lasting more than a day – with nearly 100 deadly hit-and-run crashes still unsolved to this day.
“Somebody’s got to be responsible. Somebody’s not doing their job, I’m sure!” said Herman Campbell.