by Jay A. McCalla
From the corner of our eye, we’ve watched Chicago wrestle with a murder rate that seems to overshadow all other news from that city and confound local political leadership. Last year, The Windy City racked up 468 murders, representing a 12 percent increase over the preceding year. That heart-shocking murder rate is almost 30 percent higher than 2013.
After years of trying one failed policing tactic after another, the city has recently resorted to the desperate act of hiring 1,000 additional cops. Given the quivery finances of most cities, this is a signal that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has run out of options.
This is of interest, given our own startling increase in gun violence. Nine people were shot on a recent Tuesday. With more than 200 murders, we are 9 percent ahead of last year with several months still to go.
While the actual integers are quite different between Chicago and Philadelphia murders (468 vs 203), the percentages are uncomfortably comparable. Adjusted for the fact that we have roughly half the population of Chicago, percentages reveal we closely approximate their eye-popping gun violence and murders and are on target for to approach 250 murders before year’s end.
For most of us, police work is a mystery vaguely informed by TV, movies and crime novels. We assume whatever our force is doing represents the best, most effective practices available. We don’t question the value of cops on horseback or why some police cars have two officers and others have only one. With a murder rate damnably tantamount to America’s most violent city, it may be time for us to start “second guessing” how we are policed.
My “second guessing” begins with PPD’s unmovable commitment to its notorious stop-and-frisk program, started under Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay. Under stop-and-frisk, 20,000 citizens are stopped monthly, over and above the normal “pedestrian stops.” During his campaign for election, candidate Jim Kenney (now an inexplicable supporter) asserted that almost 80 percent of these stops detected zero criminal behavior.
Stop-and-frisk is a nationally controversial policing technique that concentrates on poor Black and Latino neighborhoods and is a remarkable drain on human resources and tax dollars. Twelve years of data collected from New York City indicate the program was not a useful crime fighting tool, yet NYC Mayor Bloomberg was devoted to the concept and practice.
Another measure of whether or not we’re being well-policed is the sobering number of successful complaints brought against the PPD. Between 2009 and 2014, taxpayers have shelled out $40 million to compensate citizens for misconduct.
To paraphrase the late U.S. Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, “$40 million here, $40 million there. Pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”
Combined, Indianapolis, San Francisco, San Jose and Austin approximate our population. Yet, the total of their police misconduct complaints amount to 20 per cent of ours. In most cases, numbers don’t lie. These tell us PPD has a misconduct problem of national proportions.
Of course, there is the profoundly distressing level and range of corruption that runs the gamut of crude cash grabs from store registers to organized crime rings pocketing $500,000 in money and drugs. Those crime rings often involved beatings, robbings and kidnapping. (yeah, we’re talking about policemen).
The issue of corruption was driven home with a 42-page federal indictment, about a year-and-a- half ago, and arose again with the recent arrest of a 14-year veteran who was dealing drugs.
There is good reason to wonder about the talent and values of senior PPD officials. Ramsay raised standards for hiring to include college courses. Richard Ross, the current commissioner, recently lowered standards for hiring. Standards were lowered without a peep from the Mayor or City Council, by the way.
The animating question regards our ability to cope with a rising murder rate given that we’re coagulated with corruption, misconduct, lawsuits and stop-and-frisk.
The answer lies in the willingness of police leaders to conspicuously and convincingly attempt to resolve any of those festering items.
Until that willingness is plainly evident, it will be reasonable to wonder and “second guess.”