A Deep Dive into Chicago’s Crime Data

March 12, 2024

Falling into the rabbit hole of publicly available data

Poking around the Cook County State’s Attorney's website, one finds all the hallmarks of a political official: Story after glowing story of how wonderful Ms. Kim Foxx is for the people of Cook County. Spend a half hour reading and you would think Cook County is on par with the Garden of Eden itself. This land where we reside, as presented by the website, is a diverse utopia of justice and tranquility.

And so it happens, that in the name of “transparency” the CCSAO’s website has a PR piece which describes making several data tables — results of the work done by the office — available to the public. As such, anyone can go to the Cook County government website and find the open data portal. From there, select data sets tagged “state’s attorney” and several tables will pop up.

One of the most interesting is a table called “Intake.” This table, if queried correctly, will show the results of the CCSAO’s “felony review” process over the years. There are 17 fields for each record and the table contains half-a-million records going back to 2011.

When considering only cases brought by CPD and removing arrests that bypass the felony review process there are 178,085 records for the years 2011–2023. When reviewing the five years (2011–2015) before Ms. Foxx arrived in office, the average felony approval rate was 83 percent. The average rejection rate of the felony approval process was 10 percent. In the five years subsequent to having Ms. Foxx at the helm (2017–2021) the approval averaged just 73 percent and the rejection rate jumped to 18 percent.

Below is a chart of the data by year:

By looking at the chart, one can see that in 2020 the approval rate jumped up by about five percentage points. However, even with this increase the CCSAO’s approval rate is still about five to six percent lower than the historical average.

Framing this in practical terms, if CPD makes 14,000 arrests a year which feed into the CCSAO’s felony review process, Kim Foxx is effectively refusing to file charges on an extra 1,800 cases a year. This comes to nearly five cases per day, and almost 14,500 cases over her eight years in office.

The results are undeniable: During her tenure, Kim Foxx has refused to file charges on an entire year’s worth of CPD arrests. This is the Kim Foxx effect, and only on the felony review process.

In a similar fashion, the Chicago Police Department publicly releases several tables in the City of Chicago data portal. The table labeled “Crime” has around 8 million records dating back to 2001. If you summarize the top nine major categories by month you get this chart.

When you look at this it is relatively easy to see how the mayor, or anyone for that matter, is always able to pick some point in time and claim that “crime is down.” Maybe not last month or the month before, but going back six months or year there is always guaranteed to be a “decrease in the increase” or other such “fact” which supports the narrative.

Maybe this is not all bad. The data can be smoothed out by summarizing the records annually.

It is pretty clear that for the first two decades of the millennium crime was indeed heading down. The downward trend flattened — or even reversed a little — when Kim Foxx got elected in 2016. Then came COVID and the 2020 riots, for which apparently no police reports were filed. The missing spike in reported Criminal Damage — particularly criminal damage to property — in 2020 is glaring. It is almost as if were supposed to forget an entire summer of rioting and looting surrounding the global pandemic ever took place.

Taking a look at the same data, but only for the last five years, shows how after years of declining crime Chicago is now facing an increase in crime across several major categories.

Thefts, assaults, batteries, criminal damage, and robberies are all up. In a startling development, auto thefts have more than doubled. Reports of narcotics trafficking are down. Accounts of burglary and deceptive practices are essentially flat. All of this is something to keep in mind the next time the mayor is out talking about how Chicago is safe and “crime is down.”

If we return to the same data table, we notice it includes a field indicating whether an arrest was made. That means it is possible to calculate the arrest rate for all the major categories of crimes over the years.

Looking at the chart above, one can see that the arrest rate and theft cases has fallen sharply from nearly 16 percent to around five percent over the last 20 years.

Although the rate is low (5–6%) the arrest rate for burglary cases in Chicago has remained consistent over the years.

While not as glaring as the drop-off in arrests for theft, the arrest rate for criminal damage is less than half of what it was 20 years ago.

The records show the arrest rate in cases of battery was holding fairly steady above 20 percent until 2020.

In the end, virtually nothing can compare with the situation of carjackings and other auto thefts in the city. It is simply a cloud without a silver lining.

However, what does it all mean?

Well, without turning this into a Ph.D. dissertation in sociology, these charts explain the “feelings” of Chicago residents. We know that we do not feel safer; to the contrary, we’re more afraid than ever. We are, though, not entirely sure why. It's just something in the gut that tells us that something is wrong.

We are being told that “crime is down” by public officials, in particular the mayor, but we don’t believe it.

There is an implicit understanding that CPD is going to investigate crimes against us, find the perpetrators, and arrest them. This method of justice is happening less frequently.

We are led to believe that county prosecutors are doing their jobs keeping criminals off the street, but it just is not so today.

This failure to prosecute crime consistently and appropriately is how the fabric of society unravels. While it is difficult to articulate, we can feel it happening, as it is occurring before our very eyes. People understand that crime occurs everywhere. That is just an uncomfortable fact when living in proximity with others. Despite this, the deal we make with each other is that the various pieces of the justice system coordinate with each other to arrest criminals, charge them for their actions, and see that they are punished appropriately. What the data shows is that the system is failing.

While it is true that Chicago faces a litany of problems, the solution to the crime issue is not complicated, but rather incredibly straightforward: The people need to (a)demand more police officers which will lead to more arrests which will lead to higher arrest rates; and (b) replace Kim Foxx with a state’s attorney who is unafraid not to hold criminals responsible and sentence them to prison terms.

If Mayor Brandon Johnson, Superintendent of Police Larry Snelling, and others can get the system working again, people will naturally begin to feel better, more comfortable, and less fearful. At least, that is what the data suggests.

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