Crime will continue to be the definitive local issue in 2022

By: Christopher Ryan Crisanti

Crime has probably been the hyperlocal, defining issue of 2021 and with no signs of the numbers decreasing, it seems like this trend will continue in 2022.

Prairie State Policy has published a few pieces as it relates to crime. One particularly notable piece illustrated where homicides occur in the city of Chicago and concluded that, despite common perception, crime is heavily concentrated on the West and Southside of the city and technically not widespread. This is not to say that crime is unapparent throughout the city, but point out that some neighborhoods are safer than others, and by a wide margin.

The data in our study used 2019 numbers and crime has been ticking up in almost every category since early 2020. In a recent front-page story by The Chicago Tribune, the paper noted that there has been “783 homicides in the city and an additional 3,592 nonfatal shooting victims,” with “an increase of more than 60 percent in both categories.” Those don’t even count shootings alone the expressway. Moreover, another Tribune article from June 2021 noted that carjacking’s in 2020 surged nearly 135 percent from the previous year. That’s not a good sign and because of the uptick in COVID cases, there is no reason to believe crime will be on a downtrend in 2022.

But now, the issue of crime seems to be hitting a little too closer to home. For example, State Senator Kim Lightford was recently carjacked at gunpoint with her husband in Broadview, just north of Cermak Road. The Oak Brook Mall entered lockdown as a reported shooting left four shot. The list goes on.

While data indicates that the recent events are extremely rare for our suburban enclave, the reality is, data or not, people just don’t feel safe anymore. It doesn’t matter that, in the case of Oak Brook, this had been the first Mall shooting in over nine years. When something like this happens and impacts our community, people care, listen, and want answers.

Violent crime data is important because it allows public managers to identify trends and formulate a plan to address the issue. However, what is sometimes overlooked is the human element of violent crime. While we cannot fully measure people’s emotions, we can measure their perception and the best way to do this is through survey data.

A recent WGN/Emerson College poll showed that crime remains the number one issue among Chicago residents and by a far margin. About 44 percent of those surveyed listed crime as their biggest concern, with COVID-19 as a distant second with 12 percent. Moreover, nearly half of residents said they are “greatly concerned” about carjackings, while about 30 percent are concerned “a fair amount.”

Current public opinion on crime suggests that crime has consequences not just for the offenders or victims, but society as a whole. People want to live in communities in which they feel safe, but when that state of well-being is compromised, it creates a vicious cycle which starts to effect other issues originally not thought of as linked, such as mental health, poverty, education, and economic mobility.

When crime is prevalent, society starts to break down and distrust of our public institutions escalates. The vast majority of people polled disapprove of the job local leaders are doing to address crime.

And when crime starts creeping into our communities, just like in Broadview and Oak Brook, we may suddenly perceive it as not being as safe as we originally thought. And so, we get up and leave. About 65 percent of people polled said they would consider moving if crime continues on its current trend.

The year ahead will be a challenge for public managers, elected officials, social workers, law enforcement, healthcare workers and citizens. Moreover, reducing crime will require the corporation among local, state, and federal government to share resources and put together a compressive plan because no single unit of government can do all of the heavy lifting.

However, at this point the numbers and public perception suggest we are not heading in the right direction. While crime may be more heavily concentrated in some areas than others, its impact is not just bounded to its neighborhood. For the good of society, this is an issue that should not be taken lightly.

This column was also published in the DesPlaines Valley News.

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