How '60 Minutes' got it wrong about Chicago
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New Year’s Day, "60 Minutes" aired a segment called “Crisis in Chicago” to cover an unprecedented the drastic increase in Chicago’s murder rate in the year 2016. The introduction to the segment described Chicago's 762 murders, and 4,000 shootings in 2016, and acknowledged that “gangs, guns and drugs have caused chaos in Chicago, for years.”

The story then took a disturbing, biased turn when immediately thereafter, CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker said the Chicago Police Department (CPD) stopped doing “the kind of police work that’s critical to preventing this kind of crime,” saying that the CPD was an “agency on its heels.”

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The television magazine show then disclosed statistics that were obtained from the Chicago Police Department, revealing an annual comparison of 2016 and 2015 pertaining to the metrics of stops conducted by CPD. It also showed that in August 2015 police officers stopped and questioned 49,257 people as a result of proactive policing measures.

A year later, that number decreased to 8,859, which is about an 80 percent decline in people stopped and questioned. In describing these statistics, 60 Minutes interviewed medically-retired Chicago police officer Brian Warner, who was shot in 2011 and former Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

In explaining the decline, Warner cited the “alarming cause” for the drastic decrease in police activity by correctly saying that CPD officers are “stepping back” from aggressive policing.

60 Minutes edited the interviews in a manner that describes the CPD as if they were derelict in their duty to conduct aggressive policing. However, where 60 Minutes fails to connect the dots is in the national timeline of political backlash against law enforcement nationally in almost the exact same timeline offered in the aforementioned drop in stop statistics. 

In the interview, McCarthy, who is widely considered a “fall guy” by many law enforcement executives, cited multiple administrative policies that were implemented by the City of Chicago as a result of efforts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel due to threats of legal action by the ACLU.

These policies clearly stifled proactive policing efforts by requiring officers to complete a two page written report for every person they stop and question. These reports, among other information, report and track racial metrics for each stop made by CPD officers. So, if you’re a White, Latino or Asian CPD officer working in a predominantly African-American area; these metrics will paint you as someone who only stops African-Americans, when taken out of context.

Furthermore, 60 Minutes failed to understand the issue from the perspective of a working police officer by saying “It doesn’t seem that filling out a two page report is that onerous.” McCarthy countered this naïve presumption by describing how these two page reports take upwards of 45 minutes to complete; and that’s if it’s not in combination with arrest, incident, and evidence reports that also keep the CPD off the streets and not available for the proactive policing the story accuses the CPD of shirking. 

Interestingly, McCarthy was recruited to lead the CPD from his experience in leading transformative proactive policing strategies. McCarthy went from Police Officer to Deputy Commissioner of Operations of the New York City Police Department from 1981 to 2006, personally participating in most drastic drop in crime in American history. 

In 2006, he was appointed to the Police Director position in Newark, NJ by then-Mayor Cory Booker from 2006-2011, where his effective crime strategies documented in the award-winning documentary “Brick City”. After being appointed by Mayor (and former Obama Chief of Staff) Rahm Emanuel to run the nation’s 2nd largest police department, McCarthy faced far greater political hurdles related to aggressive and proactive policing than he faced among former employers mayors Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who was the mayor of Newark when McCarthy was tasked with reducing crime in New Jersey’s largest city.

It also should be noted that while Chicago is in the midst of an epidemic in gun crime, it boasts one of the most restrictive municipal gun laws in America. So if the layering of restrictive legislation and increasing scrutiny of police practices exists, why is Chicago’s violent crime rate exploding? 

McCarthy said it most poignantly by warning that Chicago is “Noncompliance with the law is becoming legitimized, and the police is on their heels for a number of reasons.” Resulting in, according to McCarthy; “We’re reaching a state or lawlessness.”

So, when criminals who have no regard for a law obtain illegal firearms, do not have a working fear of police of the justice system, and the public seemingly scrutinizes the police and courts more than the criminals on their streets, a societal crisis emerges.

The performance of any profession, from teachers to sanitation workers will suffer if the public they serve and the political leaders who oversee them fails to support them. 

McCarthy correctly summed it up by saying “Officers are under attack, that’s how they feel in this environment, and they’re not going to put their lives and families on the line.”

Worse, this is a national problem; where cities across America have seen spikes in violent crime. This has been dubbed the “Ferguson Effect” after the national backlash against law enforcement following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Initial reports by Brown’s friend said that he had his hands up and said “don’t shoot” moments before he was executed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. 

However, both county and federal investigations, two separate coroner’s inquests, and multiple statements from local eyewitnesses proved the initial reports to be lies; showing that Brown was coming from a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store when stopped by Wilson, assaulted him in his patrol car, and was in a charging stance when the final shots brought him down (according to the coroner’s report).

The phenomena of law enforcement officers “stepping back” from proactive policing was dubbed “the Ferguson Effect” because despite the public disclosure of the investigation by St. Louis County prosecutors, medical examiners, and the US Department of Justice; a frightening number of people still believe that Brown was executed by Wilson, and that the police are systematically targeting African Americans for shooting on America’s streets.

The truth is quite the opposite, and is proven in numerous metrics collected by independent agencies.

At the end of the 60 Minutes interview, Whitaker interviewed current Chicago Police Superintendent, Eddie Johnson, who defended his agency’s work by saying: “What we can’t measure is the crime that we stop.” 

This should serve as both a defense of his officers, but also a call for alarm, as how can one measure the value of police presence, and quantify what happens when a lawless segment of the population stops fearing negative contacts with the criminal justice system?

The unfortunate result is 764 lives senselessly cut short on the streets of one of America’s greatest cities.

A. Benjamin Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Board at St.John’s University and the Peirce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter: @PublicSafetySME


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