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Di Leo: Crime Statistics and the State of our Cities



By John F. Di Leo -  Chalk outline

Chicago’s murder statistics are in the national news again.

Granted, we hardly need to date columns like this anymore, since Chicago’s murder statistics are always in the national news, nowadays.  It’s either the most killings in a month, or the most shootings in a weekend, or the most attempted murders in a year.  Which statistic may vary, but the general subject doesn’t.

August, 2016 was the most deadly month in a Chicago city in 20 years, with ninety successful murders counted in a single month (how many unsuccessful murders – known as “attempted” murders – is not tracked quite as carefully, because so many go unreported).  The city of Chicago logged 2300 shootings in 2016 by the end of August alone, easily on track to top 3000 such attacks by year-end.

The press bemoans it, and the politicians use it as yet another excuse to increase gun control, although how more gun control in a city that already has the most stringent gun control in the country would make any positive difference is beyond explanation.

The crime statistics of Chicago are actually a lot like job reports and interest rates are in the stock market: the levels are anticipated for months, so they’re baked into the equation long before the final numbers are released. 

“Why didn’t the latest jobs report release cause a stock market correction?”  Comes the reply: “Because the markets had already allowed for them.”

And it is the same here.  Chicagoans grew up with it; they’re used to it.  Insurance companies bake these statistics into their rates; the city plans for enough police and jail cells to handle what they can. 

And the newspapers leave some column space available every day, ready to fill with the latest crime story.

But is all this the right response?  Shouldn’t society refuse to accept these numbers, and instead demand an end to the violence?

The Problems

When we encounter these statistics, we think of the obvious, in a static environment:  there are dangerous neighborhoods, so we have to find a way for society to deal with them, and on a personal basis, we plan ways to avoid encountering them ourselves.  So we move to safe neighborhoods of the city, or we move to the suburbs.  And then if we must go into the city, to work or to shop or to dine, we find safe public transport, or we plot safe driving routes around the bad neighborhoods. 

And we fund police and jails and courts – lots and lots of each – to deal with the problem that government can’t just drive around. 

Some of the pain of America’s urban crime is obvious, but much of it is not.   

Think, for example, of how crime negates convenience.  If I worked downtown, it would be most convenient to live just a couple miles from downtown, in the inner city, wouldn’t it?  Not when you consider crime rates.  I live in the suburbs, 30 miles from downtown, but my public transport route to downtown is safe (I would take the Metra rail), while people who live just three miles from downtown risk their lives to go (because they would walk, or take a bus, or take the CTA rail).

People would live in the city for the convenience, but crime has made that convenience largely unacceptable for all but those wealthy enough to live in the relative safety of “the right neighborhoods.”  Otherwise… well, waiting at a bus stop or train station, in much of the city, is simply too dangerous a choice, even during daylight.

This has costs beyond the obvious.  It means that people will flee the city – so the city will bleed residents, shoppers, and employees.   But it doesn’t just make it harder to do things, it means that eventually, things won’t get done at all

It means that vacancy rates climb to the point that apartment buildings, strip malls, and office buildings become unsustainably high, eventually reaching the point where whole neighborhoods are vacant.  Stores and businesses fail for lack of both employees and customers who dare to go there.

And this means costs rise… as stores, businesses and homeowners must install expensive security systems, as their property insurance and auto insurance rates rise due to the undeniable higher risk of their location…

And this means the tax base shrinks…  all kinds:  income tax receipts, property tax receipts, FICA receipts and sales tax receipts… meaning that everything we need our government to do about this, becomes ever harder for our government to afford.

We’re witnessing a downward spiral, one that for decades happened so slowly, people got accustomed to it.  A factory moved to China, leaving a block vacant and 500 people unemployed.  A strip mall of seven shops shrank to five, then to three, and is now down to a single government office and a used-clothing shop run by a charity.  At first, this happened once a year, and wasn’t noticeable, then once a month, and today it happens weekly, all over our major cities. 

We’ve watched the cycle in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, St Louis… in so many cities, so many states. Chicago today has a population a full million lower than it was half a century ago at its peak.  Think about that: a million people have fled Chicago’s city limits since the 1950s.

And what have we done about it?  Government has raised tax rates to fund its efforts, which just drives people and employers away as fast as the crime does. That hasn’t helped; it’s exascerbated the problem. 

At the same time, we’ve seen liberal feel-good programs like the welfare state, sanctuary cities, mideastern refugee resettlement and open borders draw indigents to our cities – even as the tax-and-regulatory state has driven employers and employees away. 

The cycle must stop.  In fact, the cycle must be reversed.


The Solutions

Fortunately, we know how to solve most of our crime problems. 

Unfortunately, the leadership of our cities is diametrically opposed to solving them.

The Criminals:  Virtually all urban crime is committed by repeat offenders.  Yes, we know, that appears to be statistically impossible, because every criminal had to have a first time… but in practice, it really does work out this way, because the criminal element commits so many crimes.  We catch them, we convict them, and then we let them go.  And they commit another twenty or thirty or forty crimes before they’re caught again.  The solution is so simple: just stop letting them go.   Once convicted, they need to stay locked up. 

The Left wants to release them back into the community to commit more crimes; the Right wants to keep them locked up.  It’s simple.

The Criminal Justice System: The cost of the criminal justice system is daunting, and many argue against long prison terms because of the cost of the jails… but this is a false argument.  The primary cost of the criminal justice system is the very fact that it’s a revolving door. 

We spend so much money catching people, trying them, convicting them, and processing them… the very same people, again and again and again.  If you just leave them in jail for thirty years, that’s thirty years’ worth of additional crimes they won’t be committing, dozens more arrests and trials that won’t be needed.  We don’t exactly have more criminals than we can handle; we release criminals at a rate we can’t handle.  The cost of the rest of the system plummets when robbers, rapists, muggers, drug dealers, assaulters and murderers aren’t free to commit those crimes. 

It’s the Left’s approach that renders the criminal justice system unaffordable, not the Right’s.


Capital Punishment:  The death penalty provides three key services for society: it ensures that criminals will never commit another crime; it saves the cost of fifty years of incarceration (at $50K/year, that’s $2.5 million per prisoner in savings versus a life sentence for a 20-year-old killer)… and it acts as a deterrent if it’s swift and sure.  Many argue that the cost of processing appeals outweighs the savings, but this is a false argument, when you consider the additional crimes the dead killer can’t convict, and the benefit of the deterrent effect.  Many also argue that it’s irresponsible to consider the cost savings of the death penalty when talking about a human life, but this too is a false argument, because to support the life of convicted killer is to devalue the lives of his victims.  When given the choice between siding with killers and siding with past and potential victims, a responsible society must side with the victims. 

The Right understands this; as usual, the Left shuts its eyes to this truth.

Law Enforcement Officers:  The only way to have any hope for safe streets is if the police, sheriffs, and state troopers are unquestionably respected.  Unfortunately, it has become popular to undercut the authority of the police, particularly in the cities with the greatest need for a strong police presence.  Certainly there is a small percentage of corrupt police, as there is bound to be some percentage of corruption in any government hiring pool.  But the disrespect for the badge – for these valiant souls who willingly risk their lives every day to protect their fellow citizens – is outrageous and destructive.  Police need to be given the full support of community leaders and government.  There is a choice to make, only one: side with the law-abiding citizens and their protectors, the police, or against them.  When you side with the  protesters against the police, you are siding with the criminals against the community.  There is no other way to view it.

The Right has always sided with the school-children, the pedestrians, the residents, the employers and employees, of the communities that the criminals target for crime; the Left has chosen the side of the criminal element.

The Borders: This is so obvious, it hurts to have to type the entry.  A nation with 95 million people of working age outside the workforce should have closed its borders long ago, but we have not.  We must stop inviting in both the Middle Eastern alleged refugees and the Central and South American poor.  We must close the borders for a few years, at least, until our nation can assimilate the legal immigrants we already have and get our economy back in shape.  This unlimited immigration – both legal and illegal – has created unsustainable costs to our healthcare system and our social safety net, and has served as a conduit to bring drugs and gangland actors into our cities. 

The Right wants to shut the door to them.  The Left wants to keep inviting them in.  Nowhere else is there a clearer example of the difference between sanity and insanity in our public policy disputes.

The Choice

The lines are clear.  The Right’s solutions will make our cities safer.. and only safe cities will enable all the other cures our nation needs.  We have lost manufacturing, big and small.  Our cities lose their retail and wholesale businesses; our cities’ residents lose their jobs.   The death spiral of our cities grows, as the infection we first saw in Detroit and Gary has spread.

The Left wants more of the same – more mass release of criminals into the neighborhoods, more demonizing of police to render them impotent, more taxes and regulations to drive away employment and turn our cities into ghost towns.

The Right cares… we run for office, we talk about these issues, we introduce legislation that gets voted down by a majority of Leftists who live in the past and refuse to acknowledge reality.

So much is up to the voters who live in our cities.   Much needs to change in Washington, DC… and much needs to change at the state levels… but so much is in the hands of the big city mayors and city councils.  When will they wake up and realize that their precious Democratic politicians are destroying their homes, their communities, and their very lives?

Copyright 2016 John F. Di Leo


John F. Di Leo is Chicago-born international transportation and trade compliance professional. His columns are frequently found in Illinois Review.  Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included.


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  1. John, very well stated and I agree with your arguments relative to the political/governmental causations of the criminal environment that is destroying cities such as Chicago. While not ignoring the political implications to this problem, what are your thoughts on what seems to be an ever-increasing breakdown in the family structure and the lack of family support, guidance, discipline, and teaching of responsible values. Without responsible parental oversight and care, I question the likelihood that the prevalence of criminal behavior will ever be curtailed.