Rahm Emanuel played the good Democratic solider on "Meet the Press" Sunday, but when he wasn’t touting President Obama’s accomplishments, he was touting his own work in four months as mayor of Chicago. Among his claims: “For the last nine weeks, we’ve seen crime drop 20 percent.”
Host David Gregory didn’t question the figure, so it’s unclear how the mayor came up with it. But it doesn’t appear to be the result of math.
In fairness, Emanuel was right that crime in Chicago is on the downswing, at least according to police department stats.
As a matter of fact, the police say citywide crime totals have dropped for 32 straight months and counting. That would be four-and-a-half months under the reign of Mayor Emanuel, and 27-and-a-half months under his predecessor, Mayor Daley.
Still, tempting as it may be, we probably shouldn’t give all the credit to Mayor Daley either, since one could argue that cops do some of the work—however many of them there actually are.
Plus, crime has also been dropping nationwide for years. For example, violent crime dipped 13 percent nationally from 2006 to 2010. In Chicago it fell 14 percent over that time. If Daley had run for re-election this year, he could have campaigned proudly as the mayor who did slightly better than average.
Needless to say, any drop in crime is good news.
But as these figures suggest, reducing crime by 20 percent would be a huge deal over a span of years, let alone a couple of months.
It’s also not clear if a few weeks’ of stats would tell us anything meaningful—most criminal justice experts say that’s far too short a time period to be able to figure out any crime trends, since so many variables, including the weather, can skew the numbers one way or another.
Since Mayor Emanuel brought it up, though …
The crime totals in Chicago haven’t dropped by 20 percent.
About 59,000 crimes were reported this August and September, according to crime data posted on the city’s website (as a government transparency initiative—thanks, Mayor Emanuel!). That’s about 9 percent fewer than the same period a year ago.
On the one hand, that’s almost twice the drop from 2009 to 2010. On the other, it’s less than half what the mayor boasted of on national television.
Of course, Emanuel took office on May 16, so he’d undoubtedly like to take credit for everything that’s happened since then, and not just the last nine weeks.
It turns out that crime in that period has dropped 5 percent compared with a year ago—not 20 percent, but not insignificant.
Then again, it dropped the same amount a year earlier, before we had an ex-Mayor Daley to kick around.
However you slice and dice them, though, these are all just statistics, and many Chicagoans don’t think they say much about safety in their neighborhoods. That’s especially the case after warm weekends like the one we just had. As one reader put it in an email: “He forgot to mention that about 30 PEOPLE WERE SHOT IN CHICAGO THIS WEEKEND ALONE.”
The reader is wrong: Mayor Emanuel didn’t forget. This is why the stats game becomes so important.
There is one other thing the mayor didn’t mention. While it may not shock anyone who’s heard about Emanuel’s way with words, the city has seen a notable increase in at least one crime category: obscenity violations are up 9 percent.