Newly Released Chicago Crime Numbers Raise Questions

Police say murders in Chicago have hit a 50-year low, but some city leaders have accused the police superintendent of manipulating crime data.

Newly Released Chicago Crime Numbers Raise Questions
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It's something that has become synonymous with Chicago: violence.

"Chicago: the murder capital of America." (Via Fox News)

"Nine people have been killed and another 53 wounded in gun violence over the holiday weekend." (Via Chicago Sun-Times)

"Chicago's gun violence came roaring back this weekend, killing four people, including an 11-year-old girl." (Via ABC)

Lately, many stations in Chicago, including WLS-TV, have led many of its newscasts with shootings that take place on a fairly regular basis. Stations often classify many weekends in the city as "violent weekends."

But Chicago police are now out with new statistics that say the first seven months of this year has seen the lowest number of murders since 1963, with 214 killed since January. 

 WBBM reporter Jim Williams published a recent story putting some blame on the media for "countless" reports on crime stories — citing data that shows the number of murders across the city has gone down from 930 in 1994 to 414 in 2013. A local criminologist also made the point, "The amount of media coverage today as you know is substantially greater than it was 20 [years] ago."

But if the numbers are historically low, why are outlets reporting on crime so much? Just a few days after Williams' report, another reporter at WBBM asked Lollapalooza attendees whether they were worried about violence at the popular Chicago music festival that wraps up Sunday.

"Did you think twice about violence in Chicago before you came here this year?"

"Not at all. Not at all."

"It's a beautiful city. Every city has got their drama and their politics."

Despite the lower number of reported murders and violent crimes in Chicago, some city leaders aren't buying it.  

"Some local aldermen claim the city's top cop is manipulating statistics."

"Oh yeah, crime is down. Crime is down compared to what? We have just seen the worst month of shootings in this city." (Via WMAQ)

Earlier this year, Chicago Magazine published a two-part special report, which many outlets have cited, saying: "many police sources say they have been pressured by superiors—explicitly and implicitly—to underreport crime. ... the department [has] quietly changed several bedrock crime reporting and scoring policies."

The Chicago Tribune quoted Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy who defended the statistics in a hearing Friday by blaming the media: "Twenty years ago, every single shooting, every single murder was not reported by social media or the press in general, and there’s no context to those reports."

Still, the FBI has designated Chicago as the so-called "murder capital" of the U.S., which some critics say can be misinterpreted. Chicago had more murders than any other city in 2013, but when you consider Chicago's population of about 2.7 million people, you get an entirely different picture.

Chicago Business points out the when the murder rate is adjusted for population, it was significantly lower than other major cities including Baltimore, New Orleans and Newark. It also had a much lower violent crime rate than cities including Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Chicago Magazine, which published the report saying police were misreporting crimes, even called the designation of "murder capital" inaccurate.