PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday August 1st, 2014, 4:46pm

Chicago Police Supt. Defends Crime Stats At A 'Charade' City Council Hearing

Chicago Police Supt. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy was in the hot seat Friday morning at an informational hearing on how the department collects, uses and reports crime data. Progress Illinois was there for the meeting.

Chicago Police Supt. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy was in the hot seat Friday morning at an informational city council hearing on how the department collects, uses and reports crime data.

Members of the council's Progressive Caucus requested the hearing back in April on the heels of an inspector general audit and report by Chicago Magazine, both of which questioned the accuracy of Chicago crime data.

There were less than 20 aldermen at today's three-hour hearing, held by the joint committee on workforce development and public safety, which did not have a quorum. 

In remarks to reporters after the hearing, Progressive Caucus member Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) asked, "What did we really have at the end?"

"We only had a couple of aldermen. We didn't have a quorum for the committee," he said. "What does that say about what we're doing as a city council, as a city and as elected aldermen here?"

"What kind of charade did we see today? It's typical of the administration, and then they didn't get to the questions that were necessary. We can compare data ... from 20 years ago. So what? ...  I think we can all agree with the superintendent that crime is driven by poverty, lack of educational resources [and] the inability to address those resources. But what did this administration do? They closed schools. They turned their backs on communities."

During his presentation, McCarthy explained that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) uses two foundational data sets. One is the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) program, which is designed to answer the question: what crimes occurred in the past? The second is CPD's CompStat system, which answers the questions of how the police department is doing, and how can they use their resources efficiently to prevent crime?

McCarthy said the Chicago magazine report, which suggested police may be fudging statistics to make crime rates appear better, compared UCR data from 2010 with CompStat data from 2013.

"In essence, the magazine was comparing apples to bowling balls," he said. 

"The allegations in the article are false," he added, noting that the CPD issued a 26-point, 12-page rebuttal to the magazine following the report's publication. Chicago magazine, McCarthy said, refused to publish CPD's response and did not print a retraction over the article's "inaccuracies."

Regarding the inspector general's report, which looked at assault-related crime statistics, McCarthy said the CPD responded to the findings and "took immediate steps to correct errors."

The audit showed that the department "incorrectly classified 3.1 percent of 2012 assault-related events contained in incident reports, under the 10 percent error rate that the FBI states is acceptable for agencies participating in its national reporting program."

McCarthy said the audit found two areas of assault-related crime statistics that were compiled incorrectly in the UCR system, but correctly in CompStat. 

"Whatever errors existed, they were corrected," he stressed.

After the CPD took action to fix the problem, Inspector General Joe Ferguson said that the department's "robust response to the problems the audit revealed is an encouraging sign of an organization seeking to improve," McCarthy pointed out. The police superintendent also noted that Ferguson said, "We didn't see any basis to think that the books were being cooked."

McCarthy explained that "accurate data is paramount to what we do." Murders and shootings, for example, are reviewed on a daily basis to ensure the incident reports are accurate, he noted. And the department has a Quality Assurance Unit that conducts random sampling of case reports from districts for review. Also, UCR and CompStat data are publicly available online. The public can also access community- and block-level crime data, he said.

The city's top cop also took the opportunity to tout the city's data indicating that murders are on the decline.

In the first seven months of this year, "murders were down 55 percent from 20 years ago, down 40 percent from 10 years ago, and down 7 percent from last year's record-setting low," McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said it is false to dub Chicago the murder capital of America, explaining that the Windy City ranks 21st for violent crime among larger U.S. cities. 

But some aldermen explained there is a disconnect between the city's crime numbers and the community's perception of safety.

"Research shows it's a natural dilemma," McCarthy responded. "And that's because people who have been exposed to gun violence for a long time, if they had five murders last year and they only had three in their neighborhood this year, they don't notice a difference."

Also, the rise of social media has come with increased news coverage of shootings and murders, McCarthy explained.

"There's no context to those reports," he said, adding that people get a "steady drumbeat of shooting, shooting, shooting, murder, murder, murder, which I think helps to create a mindset."

The CPD, he added, may also need to do a better job communicating the crime stats to communities.

But Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), a Progressive Caucus member, took issue with some of McCarthy's arguments.

"I think part of the problem that we have is that whenever we see you saying something like the perception of people is not based on reality, people out there in the city are living in reality, and they don't like to hear people say that they're perception is wrong," said the alderman. "I think that's where I fundamentally have a problem with the way we talk about crime issues."

Aldermen questioned whether there are enough police in certain parts of the city grappling with crime.

McCarthy said he believes the city has "an adequate amount of officers." Chicago, he added, has more police officers per capita than any large city in the country, beside Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Newark.

"We do spend overtime, which is cheaper than hiring more officers," McCarthy added. "We're making the best uses of our resources."

Not all aldermen, however, agree with the department's use of police overtime.

"We need more manpower," Fioretti said after the meeting. "We can talk all we want to about gun control legislation, but the fact of the matter is, it's just not solving the problems here. When we talk about overtime [being] the solution to the problems, somebody's kidding themselves here."

Police overtime, added Waguespack, is "going to reach another $100 million this year."

Members of the Progressive Reform Caucus want to have McCarthy back for another public hearing before 2015 budget talks begin in the council.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said that discussion needs to address, "How do we put more officers on the street?"

"That's why we want him back here, to discuss the overtime issue and discuss how do we put more officers on the street, because we need to be able to prevent the crime, not wait for it to happen," he stressed.

In other CPD news this week, the city has made public the names of Chicago police officers who have multiple misconduct complaints against them. The list of officers were compiled as part of two civil rights cases — Moore v. Chicago and Bond v. Utreras. Click through to view the list.

"This is the first time that police misconduct records have been recognized by the city as public information," said Jamie Kalven with the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based journalistic production company, in a statement. "This marks a critical step in creating meaningful police accountability in Chicago."

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