Single, easily observed and understood examples can be extremely valuable. Such microcosm events help to provide clarity. They are useful in addressing public policy issues that have been deliberately obscured by political motivations. Politics have complicated the public policy discussion relative to crime. In cities across the nation, Americans have experienced declining public safety and rising lawlessness. Yesterday, CWB Chicago reported on the robbery of a pregnant woman. That single crime event is a microcosm story. It provides an opportunity for some much needed clarity on several key points. It is an important community policing bad news and good news moment.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Pregnant Woman Robbed, A Chicago Crime Story
On Friday, 28 October 2022, a pregnant Chicago woman was robbed in a laundromat parking lot in the 6600 Block of South Kedzie Ave. She had finished doing her laundry and loading her car when she was approached by two offenders. One offender, now known as Kevin Hall, reached through her car window, pointed a sharp object against her stomach, and demanded money. Hall then grabbed a gold chain from the victim’s neck and walked away.
This story came to light from the Cook County Bond Court monitoring by CWB Chicago, a leading news source on Chicago crime. Following a bond hearing, Hall was ordered by Judge Kelly McCarthy to “pay a $20,000 deposit toward bail to get out of jail.” Hall had only recently been released from prison this past September. He served half of his three-year sentences following convictions on aggravated battery charges against two police officers.
Sadly, the tale of a recently-released repeat offender is not the only point of note from this incident. After being robbed, the victim called 911 twice requesting police assistance. The police in Chicago’s 8th District were then in what is called a “backlog.” This meant that there were no patrol cars available for an assignment. The victim waited an hour, without the police coming to her. So, she went directly to the district station to report the robbery. Police officers had not come to her, as the call was not even assigned to officers for over an hour.
After leaving the police station, the victim observed Hall walking near 63rd Street and Kedzie Avenue. She then located a nearby Chicago Police patrol unit and directed them to her attacker. With police now on-scene, Hall was placed under arrest. A bad news, good news, community policing moment.
Crime Microcosm Points to Ponder
There is much about this story that is not positive. But, there are positives that do point the way forward in the work of building safer communities.
The increase in crime in cities like Chicago is real. Chicago Police Department (CPD) data shows that as of 30 October 2022, “Crime Complaints” are up 37% in the city, as compared to last year. CPD’s seven “Crime Complaints” categories correspond to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program’s eight “Index Crime” categories, leaving out arson. Year to date, robberies in Chicago are up 17%. Chicagoans must be aware of their surroundings whenever they are out in public, particularly at night. The robbery in this incident occurred around 10:40 pm.
The number of police officers in many cities has dropped dramatically since 2020. The demonization of the police has fostered lawlessness, and contributed to police recruitment and retention issues. An issue across many American urban areas, police staffing levels are down in Chicago. A check by Secure 1776 of Chicago Inspector General data disclosed the following. Two years ago, in October 2020, there were 13,163 sworn members, across all ranks and assignments being paid by CPD. In October 2022, there were 11,649 sworn CPD members, an 11.5% lower level of police staffing.
During a period of rising crime, is fewer police officers a concern? Yes. While how police executives deploy the officers they have is a factor as well, a downturn in police staffing levels overall negatively impacts public safety.
Lowered CPD staffing has increased the problem of “no cars available” for assignment to incoming calls to 911. When, in the moments just after a robbery, the victim makes a 911 call, it is not unreasonable to expect the immediate dispatch of police officers. Is it? But, what if there are no officers available to receive the assignment? Well, that is a problem.
Crime, Yet No Cars Available:
CPD and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) rank calls for service from the public across five categories. The most serious calls are either classified as “Priority 1,” requiring “immediate dispatch,” or “Priority 2” requiring “rapid dispatch.” A robbery “just occurred” is a Priority 1 assignment.
The public policy watchdog group Wirepoints released a key analysis on this issue in June 2022. Examining Chicago 911 calls data for 2019 and 2021, the analysis is disturbing. Pulled from official data received from Freedom of Information Act requests, the analysis showed 801,249 Priority 1 and 2 calls to 911 during 2019. On the good news side, in 2021, the volume of these calls declined 1.6% to 788,389. But, on the bad news side, the number of the calls that lingered due to “no cars being available” spiked sharply. Of the 2019 Priority 1 and 2 calls, 156,016 or 19.5% were not immediately or rapidly dispatched. In 2021, 406,829 of these calls, or 51.6% of all Priority 1 and 2 calls, were left waiting.
Individually, the vast majority of police officers seek to shorten a frightening reality: when seconds count, police officers are often just minutes away. Heroism is often on display in their efforts to rush to the defense of the innocent. It is a hallmark of the profession that builds and is strengthened by the police-community relationship.
We applaud the officers who made the arrest in this case. We do not fault any individual officers struggling against expanding workloads. They cannot be in multiple places at the same time. But, when staffing and policy decisions leave large volumes of urgent calls for assistance to wait an hour or more – the responsible public officials are failing.
Unchanged the SAFE-T Act Will Make Things Even Worse:
Far too often over the past two years, far too many elected officials have engaged in political efforts that have advanced bad public policies. Policies that have weakened public safety. The final act of the 101st Session of the Illinois General Assembly was such a moment. The “in the dead of night” passage of the SAFE-T Act did not advance the concerns of crime victims. While cleverly named, the legislation was not focused on enhancing public safety.
As we and many others have noted, the full implementation of the SAFE-T Act in January 2023 will make things worse in Illinois. The offender in the robbery of the pregnant woman as she left a Chicago laundromat was held in custody pending his posting a bond. The SAFE-T Act will eliminate all requirements to post a cash bond, and nearly all offenders will be immediately released pending trial. That is if they even show up for trial. Such is an open question, as the ability of judges to issue warrants for defendants who refuse to come to court will be greatly diminished.
Imagine you are that woman robbed last Friday. If the very next week you were to see your previously convicted-felon attacker again standing in the laundromat parking lot, would you be confident about your safety? Would you continue to vocally demand justice? When the consequences of lawlessness are not properly addressed in the courts, they play out in the community, and the community suffers.
Public Safety Requires Community Participation:
To quote music legend Bob Seger, “no one gets to walk between the rain.” Those who suggest that as a citizen you have no active role to play in advancing public safety are misguided at best. Those who would tell you that you have no role in protecting yourself and your family are simply wrong. When elected and public officials establish public policies that weaken public safety, that place you and your family at increased risk, it is the responsibility of every community member to hold those officials accountable.
Lawlessness festers and metastasizes when as individual community members we fail to address it. Victims of crime must not allow broken systems to just fail to answer their calls. If the police do not come to you, follow this victim’s lead and go to them. Report your victimization. Identify the offenders. Establish an expectation that the prosecutor must bring the case forward, or be called out. Ensure the court hears the voices of a community in defense of crime victims.
Across America, next Tuesday is election day, which is always a day for active citizenship. We do not know if the victim from last Friday is a candidate for elective office. Likely not, and that is unfortunate. Her persistence and willingness to act is encouraging. We here at Secure 1776 salute her, and we are grateful that she was not injured.
The Way Forward
Public safety in America relies on an engaged community and the strength of the police-community relationship. As a community, we need our elected and civic leaders to foster unifying approaches that advance constitutional policing, reduce violence, address chronic crime conditions, improve public safety, protect victims, foster wellness, and enhance community support for the police. Those seeking and participating in criminal justice reform efforts must not lose sight of these core elements.
As a profession, it is essential that our police departments pursue the heights of excellence. Prioritizing the concerns of crime victims is essential. The profession must fully reawaken its community policing roots, and engage in active problem-solving directly with all community residents and stakeholders. Policing must honestly seek to reach the hearts and minds of the community and call them to action. If the profession seeks to regain the support necessary for our police departments to meet their public safety mission – the voices of support for the police must be heard from across the community of “us.”
We are interested in your thoughts, and invite you to comment below.