Mimesis Law
8 July 2020

Chicago Police: We’re Bad At Solving Crimes Because People Are Mad At Us

January 4, 2017 (Fault Lines) — If you’ve ever worked in an office environment, you’ve probably had the experience of knowing a truly bad employee. Someone who finds a way to deflect responsibility for all their flaws and squeeze every drop of glory from their minimal expressions of competency. When things finally come to a head, the employee might claim that he’s only underperforming because you’re so gosh-darned critical.

Seeing that employee fired is wildly cathartic. But you can’t fire the Chicago Police. Its former top official, Garry McCarthy has gone on the record that the reason for its poor performance has nothing to do with the quality of its employees and everything to do with “overzealous scrutiny” of police.

See, the Chicago Police Department aren’t, to put it nicely, very good at their jobs. Even when exercising their core competency, shooting fleeing minorities, their accuracy has been known to be very poor. And unfortunately, when they’re not operating black sites or hiding evidence from citizen shootings, they don’t seem to be solving many murders.

To be precise, Chicago clears around 21% of murders committed each year. Add in the cold cases, and they bump up to around 30%. The national average is 64.1%, according to the FBI. Now, some people might say that low clearance rates are the result of priorities. Cop murders, for instance, tend to almost always get cleared, despite the fact that police are usually killed by strangers, rather than acquaintances. Maybe the Chicago PD just isn’t focusing a lot of resources on solving murders in poor black communities?

But, as is usual, the Chicago PD has fallen back on Black Lives Matter and the Ferguson Effect, complaining that no one is willing to snitch for them any more. Murders are going unsolved, police say, because police aren’t getting the sorts of leads that let them know who has a motive to commit the crime, or who was present for the killing.

Now, we’ve already talked before about the sharp drop in 911 calls that tends to follow after police brutality is publicized. But the police account of how this trust is lost seems to go as follows:

  1. Police do a difficult and underappreciated job.
  2. Some pencil-necked journalist makes a big deal out of like, one dead guy who was shot holding a puppy in a hot air-balloon at a charity auction.
  3. The public unfairly reacts and starts being overly critical of police.
  4. The public stops snitching, leading to further unfair criticism.
  5. A vicious cycle ensues.

Notably absent from this list is any form of personal responsibility. Instead, there is simply the overarching theme that there is a “war on cops,” who are unfairly persecuted for just doing their jobs. And when it’s pointed out that they’re not that great at actually solving crimes, that becomes just another symptom of the criticism.

As for whether Black Lives Matter is creating a “state of lawlessness” and “legitimizing non-compliance,” It should be noted that there doesn’t seem to be much overlap. The sort of person who regularly attends protests and makes a point of engaging in structured group activities probably isn’t the sort of person who is going to create one of those “unsolvable murders” clogging up the cop’s filing cabinets. To the extent that there’s a culture of lawlessness in black communities, it long predates the regular filming of police brutality.

It would be hard to imagine a boxer or sports team maintaining much public respect with that attitude. “Monday-morning quarterbacking” is a phrase derived from the public’s interest in playing armchair coach after a game, saying what they would have done. But it’s pretty rare that a coach blames a loss on public criticism, rather than his own mistakes. Even if such a claim were true, it would probably be viewed with disdain by a public who expects their heroes to take personal responsibility for their victories and their losses.

If police officers want to go back to being viewed as heroes, the first step is to change their public messaging. Blaming the people you are policing for your own mistakes may feel good, but in the end, it persuades the public that you are unreliable and unwilling to learn from your own mistakes. Even if you don’t believe it in your hearts, a little humility and an acknowledgment that you can do better will win over a lot more citizens than accusations of lawlessness.

And seriously, Chicago, you’ve got the money to start putting boots on the street in poor neighborhoods. Maybe if you started spending it on homicide investigations instead of excessive force payouts, there’d be nothing to awkwardly explain. You’d just be good at your jobs. That’d be nice.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • william the stout
    4 January 2017 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Saw a graph last week that shows the homicide clearance rate for Chicago. Around 1990, it was approximately 70%, which is far above the national average. It has steadily dropped over time into the low 20% range as you point out. This data demonstrates the problem clearly and suggests their preferred solution – if they could only go back to torturing suspects they’d be able to get their “clearance” rate back up and return to top decile performance compared to their peers.

    I mean, what do you want, constitutional rights or “solved” murders?

  • SPM
    4 January 2017 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    “But it’s pretty rare that a coach blames a loss on public criticism, rather than his own mistakes.”


    This site apparently doesn’t handle multiple links well in replies, but I was able to find at least a dozen cases of this from NFL and college football teams alone in the last 5 years.

    “If the crowed supported us better, we would have won…”

    “The fans criticism of this team is costing us in recruiting…”

    “Free agents don’t want to come here because of the fans…”

    Etc., etc., etc.

  • Hal Broker
    4 January 2017 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    As the saying somewhat goes: “the fish stinks from the head.” How about all the fed money poured into establishing joint drug task forces and financialy rewarding depts. based on drug arrest numbers (not even convictions). Not to even mention the civil asset forfeiture scam. There’s just not much profit motive in spending resources solving murders or any other crimes that aren’t about drugs. Priorities!