MY OPEN LETTER TO CHICAGO:
Stripping Context from Media & Government Reports on Police Abuse a Likely Cause of More American and Chicago Bloodshed
Statistical-Based Evidence Undermines Consent Decree Logic that Throws Chicago Police Under the Bus
“Blacks, Latinos, and whites make up approximately equal thirds of the population in Chicago, but the raw statistics show that CPD uses force almost 10 times more often against blacks than against whites.” — January 2017 U.S. Department of Justice Investigative Report on the Chicago Police Department.
By David Shuey
A year after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the city of Chicago to prevent the city’s police department from engaging in a “pattern of using excessive force” and racial bias against discriminatory misconduct African-American and Latino residents, her office is wrapping up the process of foisting a consent decree on the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Doing so, I argue, undermines public safety — especially for communities of color. Today is the last day the public can add their input. The basis for bringing this $10-million-a-year consent decree is founded almost entirely on a 2016 city report and 2017 federal report on Chicago policing that sparked international headlines from The New York Times to The Guardian.
However, the police data used within those reports focused on stops and use of force, but omitted arrest, offender and victim data. This is essential context intentionally ripped out of these documents that are a combined 182 pages. The media followed suit, painting Chicago’s police force as one of the most violent and racist in the nation, reflective of their historical reputation. They wrote the CPD regularly uses force that is “unjustified, disproportionate and otherwise excessive” and the department is “plagued by systemic racism.” Utilizing the statistics that have been publicly available this past year — as well as during the review process by U.S. Justice Department and mayor-appointed officials — some clear facts come to light that have yet to be mentioned:
- The city of Chicago uses force against its citizens at a lower rate than nationally.
- The small differences in the rates of use of force rate between blacks and whites is more equitable in Chicago than the national average.
- Use of force does not occur in 96% of white arrests and 96.7% of black arrests according the same data used in the Obama-era U.S. Department of Justice Report to condemn CPD for using “excessive force.” Police shootings represent less than 1% of total shootings in the city, and police homicides less than 2% of the total.
- Citizens of Chicago were not any more likely to be killed per arrest from 2009–2016 compared to American citizens on average the last couple years. Chicagoans the past three years were far less likely to be shot by police than the first half of the decade.
- The odds of being shot as a Chicago citizen are almost the same, around 1 in 300,000, as citizens nationwide for the years 2015–2016. This indicates a disconnect from reality and the perceptions echoed throughout the city, fueled by the misleading claims of the Police Accountability Task Force Executive Summary: “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” Lethal force against blacks nearly matches CPD’s arrest data (which, incomprehensibly, is not shown in these government reports), which matches stop data (shown), which absolutely matches crime report data by victims of crime (not shown). Thus, with essential context and non-cherry picked data, those beliefs are not as valid.
All the statistical-based evidence to support the above points I write about below.
Along the way, I want to pose two simple questions for readers, especially those that may be upset, confused or hostile to some of the points presented:
- Wouldn’t you want to know the likelihood of being shot or having force used against you by police, no matter what you look like?
- What if there’s a direct connection behind the incorrect perception that police are racially biased with their use of force (anything from putting hands on suspects to pulling their guns and shooting citizens) and spikes in civilian shootings and homicides?
I’ve been following the Chicago and national policing crisis closely, and have run some data. Utilizing use of force data found in the January 2017 U.S. Department of Justice report on the Chicago Police Department (2011–2016) — the same data used to damn the CPD and claim they “engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable” — and factoring racial differences in CPD arrests in those same years (2011–2016), here are the results:
- 3.3 out of 100 arrests for white Chicagoans result in use of force
- 4.0 out of 100 arrests for black Chicagoans result in use of force
- The rate difference between white and black Chicagoans per arrest is only 18%
- Nationally, the rate difference between white and black Americans per arrest is GREATER at 24.4%, 3.6 per 100 (white) vs. 4.6 per 100 (black), according to a widely lauded 2016 report by the Center for Policing Equity
- Thus, Chicago police are treating citizens MORE equitably than nationwide
- Those small rate differences can be explained away with the fact blacks as a group are more often arrested for violent crime and are more likely to injure police, justifying slightly more use of force.
How Does That Work? Just Check These Charts:
What Can Explain That Difference?
For many African Americans, and black Chicagoans, I would hope this data and more honest framing would offer reassurance and allow for the rebuilding of trust with police. Just like knowing that flying in an airplane is safer than driving in a car may help people who fear air travel.
As you can see in the chart I made directly above, the black-white gap per arrest is surprisingly small. But it’s still statistically significant. What could explain the racial disparity other than implicit bias, which conveniently the Center for Policing Equity offers services for to “reduce” its influence in police departments?
For starters, contextualizing for violent crime arrests, as well as citizen behavior that is different between racial groups, would make that 18% gulf in Chicago disappear — ditto the 24% percentage difference nationally. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine the entire gap could be erased because blacks are much more likely to be arrested for violent crimes compared to whites. This makes the interaction with police more dangerous.
According to FBI arrest data in 2015, 1 out of 15 black arrests are for violent crimes in four categories (rape, aggravated assault, murder or robbery), compared to 1 in 24 arrests for whites. The black-white percentage difference for these types of arrests is 48%. I also found that a sizable one-third of white arrests, but only one-fifth of black arrests, are in these four NON-violent categories: Drug abuse violations, driving under the influence, liquor laws and drunkenness. That percentage difference is nearly 40%.
The Center for Policing Equity even states that “benchmarking to violent arrests reverses the direction of the black-white gap.” Though, they also contradict themselves and say it’s not very important.
The percentage of arrests for drug violations for blacks and whites nationwide are the same — 14% of their total arrest in 2015. In 2009, drug violations were 21% of all arrests in Chicago — well before drug arrests dropped to 1973 levels in Chicago because of the decriminalizing of marijuana. However, many of these drug arrests in larger cities revolve around gang activity.
Additionally, the fact that “non-white suspects were less likely to be injured than white suspects,” as a 2010 report to the National Institute of Justice found — which also had data that said, “the odds of officer injury are slightly lower if the suspect was white compared to another racial group” — is another point rarely stated in the media. In this media landscape, you’re not going to see the headline: Report Shows Arresting Black Americans More Dangerous to Police than Arresting White Americans.
What is said in the media, often using shoddy journalism, is that blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites, or some other statistically manipulative argument. It’s also true blacks are three times more likely to be arrested than whites overall. But arrest disparity is only written about in rare instances as a congruent statistical overlap with the lethal force disparity.
“Rate” per 100, or 100,000, on the basis of behavior is the most important thing that matters. Everything else is noise stirring division and leading to bloodshed.
CPD Are “Average”
I crunched out a new statistical set August 16, in the middle of drafting this article, that shows most clearly Chicago police are “average,” and I don’t mean that disparagingly. Citizens of Chicago are no more likely to be killed per law enforcement arrest than any other American citizen:
- Odds of being shot and killed per arrest in Chicago (2009–2016): 1 in 9,900.
- These are nearly the same odds I calculated for being shot and killed per arrest for all Americans in 2017 (The Washington Post): 1 in 10,920
- For all homicides by police in 2016 (The Guardian, who count fatal shootings plus other deaths): 1 in 9,900
- The odds of being shot and killed while black in America in 2017 was slightly more favorable than past years (The Washington Post): 1 in 11,900
- The odds of being shot and killed per arrest for whites & Latinos in 2017 were nearly 10% higher than African Americans (and not reported by major media, especially not by The Post): 1 in 10,940
Doing the math is simple. You find the arrests for 8 years 2009–2016, total them, and divide by 8. You do the same for police killings. Then divide those averages. That’s slightly less than 140,000 annual arrests divided by slightly more than 14 annual police-involved homicides. Do the same for America. Compare.
In the hundreds of articles and evening news broadcasts on Chicago policing, no one did that. Similarly, for contextualizing national killings.
One thing the average police department doesn’t do as often: Clear as many as 5,100 guns off the streets, which Chicago police did over the first half of 2018. This is the same number as last year. Amazingly, there wasn’t a single officer-involved homicide in Chicago for the first six straight months of the year until a DEA sting operation led to a suspect killed. One CPD commander was gunned down and died in the line of duty during that time.
Another fact I discovered — and was not reported — looking at easy-to-find data: In 2016, the arrest rate in Chicago was lower per capita than the national rate by 12%. Of course, that year police made 6 times less stops — around 600,000 stops compared to 100,000, which some called the “ACLU Effect”— and made nearly one-third less arrests. Some did report that. They just didn’t show the bigger picture. And no one, not even former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on 60 Minutes, said, “Last year, you were less likely to be arrested in Chicago than anywhere else — now that’s surprising!” What McCarthy did say was important, if not obvious: “When you have activity falling off the way it is and crime skyrocketing, that’s a huge problem.”
In fact, that’s one reason McCarthy’s now running for mayor.
For the past 3 years, since January 1, 2015, the CPD have killed approximately 1 in 300,000 citizens, the same as police nationally. Precisely for 2015–16, I put it at 1 in 270,000 for Chicago police and 1 in 308,000 for USA police using The Guardian, and The Washington Post data. Put another way, Chicago has at most 10% more killings by police than the national average while having 400–600% more homicides. Chicago’s homicide rate jumped from being about 4 times higher than the national rate for several consecutive years to being nearly 6 times higher in 2016.
More concretely, There were 11 homicides at the hands of police in 2016, compared to 800 at the hands of Chicago citizenry. Nationally, you’re looking at around 1,000 compared to 17,250. The odds of being killed by police vs. killed by your fellow citizen is 17:1 nationally and as high as 70:1 in Chicago — 1.4% of the city’s total. It’s a statistical fact, but not widely reported, that 12% of white or Latino homicides come from police in the United States, but death-by-law-enforcement constitutes only 4% of black homicides.
The Death Count
During this same period, homicides jumped more than 20% nationally (from 2014 to 2016), an increase of 3000 deaths. As many as 500 additional citizens have been killed in Chicago since 2015, the year the Laquan McDonald video was released. These deaths are disproportionately minorities. There has been essentially zero more or less killings by police. If the activism around police reform is meant to save lives, it’s not working.
Why Bring This Up Now? The Consent Decree is Upon Us
18 months after a scathing U.S. Department of Justice Report on Chicago policing made international headlines in the final weeks of the Obama presidency, Chicago is on the precipice of making radical changes largely based on it. This is in the form a new Consent Decree draft agreement from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to correct the supposed “pattern or practice” of police misconduct and racial bias. The ghosts of high-profile police shootings are hanging over the head of Emanual seeking a third term as he prepares a 2019 mayoral election. The public input deadline is August 17.
Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot led a Police Accountability Task Force called by Mayor Emanuel after the Laquan McDonald shooting, which stated bluntly: “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color. Police Officers Shoot African-Americans At Alarming Rates: 74% of African Americans were hit or killed by police officers, as compared with 14% of Hispanics and 8% of Whites.” While the report mentions 72% of street stops and 46% of traffic stops are of African Americans, what’s not mentioned anywhere is the fact they’re also 73% of crime suspects as reported in 911 calls and crime reports. There’s also no mention of arrest totals which hover just above 70% for blacks in Chicago.
This is the information the majority of police personnel, I’m sure, have been begging the media and decision-makers to pay attention to. For too long, it hasn’t been. In areas of the city most impacted by violence, I have heard whispers of desperation, including hearing this plea from black Chicagoans: Bring in The National Guard. It’s rash, but an understandable cry.
7 out of 10: Key Alignment of Chicago Police and Crime Data
Another key finding rarely said in Chicago media — let alone by the ACLU, government reports on the CPD, political leaders, and even the police themselves:
- Black Chicagoans are just more than 7 out of 10 police stops, 7 out of 10 arrests, and — most importantly — 7 out of 10 suspects (as determined by 911 calls and crime reports, a.k.a. “case reports”).
This logically would lead to about 7 out of 10 instances of use of force directed at black Chicagoans on any given month or year (again, occurring in about 4% of black arrests), all things being equal. Any less, and that would be an unfair bias against other demographics. If 5 out of 10 crime suspects were black, then Chicago would have a definitive racism problem in policing, especially if 74% of lethal use of force incidents were directed at black Chicagoans. However, while the latter is true, the former is not.
What has happened with few exceptions by the major media (from The Guardian to The Chicago Tribune), ACLU of Illinois, Obama’s U.S. Department of Justice led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and mayoral task force reports on policing is the following:
- Demographics of the city are shown, which are almost one-third white, black and Hispanic/Latino.
- Chicago police are then cast as racially biased — in need of a consent decree that would cost Chicago $10 million a year in tax dollars — by highlighting that 7 out of 10 of their contact points and use of force are directed at marginalized black citizens. Rarely, but occasionally, critical words spew forth about blacks disproportionately being about 7 out of 10 arrests — but usually around the topic of the the war on drugs, even when marijuana arrests have dropped to less than one a day. This is between 8–10 times more than non-Hispanic whites, which is a shocking disparity, except for these facts completely omitted from the record: Blacks are 8 times more likely to be suspects in crime reports, which are mostly initiated by citizens, not police.
Compared to non-Hispanic whites, blacks in Chicago are also 27 times more likely to be arrested for murder, 24 times more likely to be arrested for robbery, and 10 times more likely to be arrested for aggravated assault — all key factors in contextualizing use of force disparities. Whites in Chicago were 1% of known non-fatal shooting suspects in 2014, and less than 5% of murder suspects, mostly for domestic homicide. With “no snitch culture” in place, arresting suspects for violent shootings and robberies are presumably more difficult in the West and South Sides — zero arrests were made the first weekend of August 2018 when an all-time record of 74 people were shot and 12 killed.
Past criminology studies in 2003 (“Race and the Probability of Arrest,” published in Social Forces) and 2016 (“Revisiting ‘Measuring the Problem’: Separate Examination of Police Contact in Serious and Nonserious Offenders,” published in Criminal Justice Review) have shown arrests for crime are racially equitable based on the commission of crime. The Social Forces study stated clearly that whites are more likely to be arrested than blacks for robbery (22% higher), aggravated assault (13% higher), and simple assault (9% higher).
Still, consistently, anti-police arguments are almost entirely built around city racial demographics and comparing them to police activity, omitting citizen behavior. Unfortunately, these are the arguments repeated ad nauseum in mainstream media. A likely factor for not including the higher rates of black and brown criminal behavior in reports is due to a longtime critique of the over-representation of marginalized communities in TV and print journalism is — one I remember taught in my sociology and journalism classes in the mid-1990s.
In a rare act of journalistic due diligence, the data on 73% of crime suspects being black I only saw reported a single time: By WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) on a now-deleted (archived) web page. This data is directly referenced on WBEZ’s audio clip of the story where the ACLU of Illinois dubiously dropped the bomb that Chicago cops were more racially biased than NYC cops at the peak of stop-and-frisk. This led to a CPD agreement with the ACLU that led to Chicago police pulling back on stops by 90% to start 2016 while shootings went up 80% — and by the end of the year, Chicago had 6 times fewer stops and 57% more homicides. According to WBEZ reporter Katie O’Brien:
“I have some doubts that the ACLU [ran all the corrections for stops and controls]. If there is supplemental information, say, in a CASE REPORT that would explain why someone is stopped, that would augment the information we have. I did hear from [CPD Spokesman] Martin Mulroney, who says racial profiling is strictly prohibited, but as far as the CONTACT CARD numbers and demographics, he said they closely mirror what’s called their CASE REPORTS. Like when someone calls in and they say ‘Someone is stealing a car, they look like this.’ That profile goes into their CASE REPORT. You can see on WBEZ.org [again, not anymore] that they’re very close to the percentages found in the CONTACT CARD”
This data is corroborated only one other time, also by WBEZ in a 2013 story focused on ACLU’s critiques, where CPD defended their stop percentages and it was reported, “The demographic stats from those [case] reports is on par with those stopped for suspicion.” This is a key linchpin to the argument that no racial bias is taking place systematically by Chicago police.
Again, the ACLU only released the contact card data, and purposely omitted crime report data. Besides the massive shooting increases, you can have an 80% drop in stops (6 times less), and another shocking thing happens (or doesn’t happen): The demographic percentages of those stops won’t change at all. If “racial profiling” was truly occurring, the demographics would logically shift dramatically after dramatic reductions in stops. This is because the widespread civil rights theory supposes stops for black and brown citizens are more arbitrary (“cops harassing black folks”), but not as much for white citizens. Remarkably, when vast reductions of stops occur in both Chicago and New York City, the percentages don’t change! This phenomenon I’ve yet to see examined closely. With the ACLU and a retired federal judge monitoring them, Chicago cops still stop 8 times more blacks than whites in 2016, the same as previous years. The ACLU seemed pleased with the 80% reduction in stops — ignoring the possibly record-high 4000-plus shootings that same year that were 95% non-white victims — but still had concerns about those disparities that wouldn’t budge. Just like in New York City (NYC) when stop-and-frisk ended and demographic percentages were calculated by the ACLU from 2003 to 2017, there’s no change, essentially, in the percentage of white, Latino or black stops despite nearly 60 times less stops.
Frankly, this makes no sense. Unless, police were largely targeting the right groups to begin with.
Two Reports That Got Some Things Right, But The Big Picture Wrong
From the April 2016 Police Accountability Task Force Executive Summary to the January 2017 DOJ Report, glaring omissions were largely not reported in the Chicago or national media. They both mention instances of excessive force, but they don’t show how prevalent that use of force was — nor even define what it is, or how often it happens. They argue there’s racial bias in terms of disproportionate stops, but they never contextualized these disparities to the demographics of crime — or even to behavior. This should be basic in any argument for or against systemic bias charges against police. Certainly, there are some oversight, promotions, and training issues in the CPD that need remedy. But what about the major ill of racial bias that runs throughout the reports and their media coverage? When looking at essential data, it vanishes like yesterday’s cold.
The federal investigation into Chicago’s police borrows heavily from the rationale of the ACLU, who improperly focus on bulk raw differences in group outcomes to argue there are “ongoing racial disparities.” Perhaps the most alarming statement in former Attorney General Lynch’s DOJ Report was the following: “Blacks, Latinos, and whites make up approximately equal thirds of the population in Chicago, but the raw statistics show that CPD uses force almost 10 times more often against blacks than against whites.” NPR, USA Today, The Washington Post, Vox, and The Chicago Tribune all reported that use of force occurred “almost” 10 times more often for black residents than white ones, and every outlet did not factor in human behavior that would lead to an interaction with law enforcement. None of them mentioned arrest rates that are different between blacks and whites in high crime cities like Chicago. Systemic racial violence by police is true if their actions are disproportionate to the violence and situations they face. The DOJ and the media ignore them consistently. The word “disparate” or “disparities” is mentioned 21 times in the 161-page DOJ report on the Chicago Police Department, and not a single time is it related to the prodigious disparities in crime by race in Chicago, which is easily found in past CPD annual reports. All the conclusions are comparisons with city demographics. By their logic, use of force should be occurring equally with women because they make up half of the city’s population.
Saying 76% of blacks receive force while being 73% of suspects and 72% of arrests (and around 80% in the most violent categories) is not difficult to mention. Yet it become the unmentionable.
Basically, the DOJ could have shared with Chicago and the world that no use of force occurs in 96–96.7% of arrests for both blacks and whites, but they chose not to. Of that 3.3–4.0% use of force that’s used per arrest, they don’t explain if one-fifth or four-fifths are “unconstitutional” — because they likely have no idea. But they don’t have to set up a benchmark, because the report made it clear it’s not necessary:
“Courts interpreting the term “pattern or practice” in similar statutes have established that statistical evidence is not required. … Although a specific number of incidents and statistical evidence is not required, our investigation found that CPD officers use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution with frequency, and that unconstitutional force has been historically tolerated by CPD.” — page 24 of the DOJ Report
But statistics are the only way to get to the truth. Or to provide a goal for improvements so a standard of a new “pattern or practice” can be set. These are absent in the reports that are the foundation of Madigan’s lawsuit for a consent decree.
Thus, we’re here today: Clearance rates for murder in Chicago dropping to 17.5% in 2017, a historical low and not surprising when CPD now has 700 detectives, down from 1,200. Police-community relations also have reached their low point. Murder rates shot up to a 40-year high in 2016, and are still well above the rates 2013 to 2015. Where does this come from? The source is obvious.
In Conclusion: Lives Are on the Line
It’s high time for some truth to get out in the open to help the city solve its most devastating problems. When there’s a 130:1 ratio difference between citizen shootings and Chicago police shootings, likely the largest gap in the nation, perhaps the focus needs to shift.
Over the past few years, I’ve ran across at 6 studies showing blacks are NOT likely to be injured or shot more often than whites or other racial groups by police. I list them in my sources, and you can read them yourself here, here, here, here, here, and finally here (Roland Fryer’s infamous 2016 study).
In the past, the narrative has been about how the policing done in black communities is racist. If the policing is actually proven not to be racist, then the opposite must be true. And if that is so, then the de-policing phenomenon and the “Ferguson Effect” is racism because it leaves the most vulnerable communities even more vulnerable by those increasingly seeking to do them harm.
How to Do the Math on Use of Force for Whites and Black Chicagoans (And How You Can Trust the Data)
All computations done here:
For Chicago, I divided the average annual instances of use of force over a 5-year period (3,662 for blacks, 379 for whites) with the arrests for the same period (92,328 for blacks, 11,541 for whites). The arrest percentage in 2009 and 2010 for blacks and whites are the same, 9% and 72% respectively. The last bullet point is the only one mentioned in the 161-page DOJ Report:
- Total Arrests (2009): 16,141 (white) vs. 130,082 (black) = 8.1 times difference
- Total Arrests (2011–2016): 11,541 (white) vs. 92,328 (black) = 8.0 times difference
- Ratio of black-white difference for each crime category arrest: Murder (27 times), Robbery (24 times), Sexual Assault (12 times), Aggravated Assault (10 times)
- Average use of force instances (2011–2016): 380 (white) vs. 3700 (black) = 9.7 times difference
For those critical of “police data” and say its incomplete, ask yourself: How come the use of force police cannot hide (CPD fatal shootings, 74% black in Police Accountability Task Force Summary, 80% black in DOJ Report) largely match the use of force data they can cover up (76% black in DOJ Report)? They’re all in the same ballpark. I call this the “you can’t hide dead bodies” argument that validates the non-lethal use of force numbers because both sets match up. Nationally, the gap is wider with 21% less fatal use of force encounters for blacks than overall use of force incidents, approximately 25% (lethal) to 31% (nonlethal). More importantly, the data runs in a direction opposite of being able to make a logical argument that, “Police are cooking their numbers on use of force on blacks on a systemwide level to look good.” If police actually did that, the use of force percentage for blacks would be 35% or higher, not 31%. Or the lethal force percentage would be 31%, and use of force would be 25%. But those aren’t the facts. Black Americans nationally are:
- 25% of those being killed by police (The Guardian, Washington Post)
- 31% of those on receiving end of use of force (Center for Policing Equity)
- 27% of the those arrested (FBI Uniform Crime data 2015)
- 43% of the persons killing cops (Washington Post)