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What should we make of this? Not much. Murder rates rise and fall, and criminologists have tried forever to figure out what causes the changes, with minimal success. Moreover, when it comes to crime trends, a year shows very little, a month almost nothing.
Which is why a crime-fighting boast by the mayor earlier this month was ludicrous.
Less than two weeks ago, the mayor's office issued a press release proclaiming that the city's "aggressive strategy to put more cops on the beat in our communities and to get gangs, guns, and drugs off the street" had "produced the most important number in crime prevention: zero. Last night, for the first time in nearly a year, there were no shootings and not a single gun crime occurred in the City of Chicago."
At a City Council meeting, Emanuel called the shooting-free night a "milestone," and said it was "important to this city's future."
One night? There are nights when the moon doesn't show itself in Chicago—but that doesn't mean it's fleeing the jurisdiction. Or that the mayor's policies are responsible, instead of the clouds. (As my colleague Deanna Isaacs pointed out, the shooting-free night happened to be one of the coldest this winter.)
Why not use even shorter time spans to herald achievements? "I have worked diligently to provide all Chicago children with a world-class education, and it's paying dividends," the mayor might say. "For ten minutes yesterday afternoon, from 2:20 to 2:30, not a single Chicago student dropped out."
And can anyone explain why zero is the most important number in crime prevention?
As we've noted here before, the mayor loves measurements and the aura of efficiency and success they can impart. He tends to get carried away with them. He was contemplating his first-100-days report even before he took office. Thirty days into office, he was posing for cameras in front of a giant chart of his first-100-day goals, with several already checked off. At 100 days, he announced that, by his measure, there had already been "more change at every level in a shorter period of time than at any other time in the history of the city of Chicago."
Back in 2008, shortly before Barack Obama was elected president and Emanuel became his chief of staff, Emanuel explained his White House philosophy to Politico. (Emanuel had been a senior adviser to President Clinton.) “In the White House, you can be on the pitcher’s mound or you can be in the catcher’s position," Emanuel said. "Put points on the board. Show people you can govern.”
Even as a pitcher, Emanuel's focus is putting points on the board.
Dear Honorable Mayor: Measurements are sometimes helpful. But reports of bogus "milestones" make a mockery of metrics. They don't really help you, and they certainly don't illuminate anything for us.