In 2014 and 2015 Chicago Magazine published a series of investigative reports by DAVID BERNSTEIN and NOAH ISACKSON asserting that the Chicago Police Department systematically and intentionally published distorted and misleading crime statistics. The Department objected to certain claims but the magazine stood by its story.
The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates: Part One
APRIL 7, 2014, The city’s drop in crime has been nothing short of miraculous. Here’s what’s behind the unbelievable numbers.
The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates:Part Two
MAY 19, 2014, Murder makes the headlines, but crimes like theft and assault are far more common in Chicago—and your chances of being a victim may be higher than the police are telling you.
Letter From the Editor: On Accuracy We stand behind our reporting on the Chicago Police Department’s crime statistics. Here’s why. BY ELIZABETH FENNER PUBLISHED MAY 19, 2014
Many of the 40 well-placed police sources who spoke to features editor David Bernstein and contributing writer Noah Isackson for “The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates” (May)—part 1 of a two-part investigation questioning the Chicago Police Department’s crime statistics—warned them that police brass would be none too happy about the story.
That was putting it mildly. On April 8, the day after we posted the article online, a 12-page memo from Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s office landed in my inbox. Its title: “False, Misleading, and Unsubstantiated Reporting in Chicago Magazine.” The police department also distributed the memo to some other journalists who were covering our story or might cover it.
The memo accuses Bernstein and Isackson—award-winning reporters both—of one error after another. As Chicago does with any challenge to a fact we have published, we double-checked each one. We stand by our reporting.
Among the department’s criticisms is that we failed to mention that one case detailed in the story, that of dead college student Michelle Manalansan, “was in fact reclassified as a murder on March 23, 2014 (more than two weeks before this story was published).” But the city’s own public data portal shows that the case was reclassified on April 9, two days after our article came out. The memo also criticizes the story’s use of unnamed sources. Withholding names is a legitimate journalistic practice in situations where individuals have reason to fear retaliation, as was the case here.
Besides, Bernstein and Isackson did not rely solely on these sources. They did their homework. They reviewed the police reports for every case they described. They checked the city’s data portal every day for nearly a year, saving screen grabs and looking closely for changes. They submitted four Freedom of Information Act–based requests—two of them extensive—to the police department, to the city’s Office of Emergency Management, and to the medical examiner’s office. And through police department spokesman Adam Collins, they asked McCarthy for comment before publication—and were turned down.
Ironically, accuracy—and the kind of transparency that would help all of us make sense of the numbers—is what Bernstein and Isackson’s report is all about. Luckily for Chicagoans, lawmakers are beginning to take notice. As I write this at the beginning of May, North Side alderman Scott Waguespack and South Side alderman Willie Cochran, a former cop, have both just introduced City Council resolutions calling for hearings into the accuracy of the city’s crime statistics. “Properly collecting and utilizing accurate crime data is a fundamental and integral aspect of CPD’s critical public mission,” Waguespack’s resolution states, “and is necessary to effectively combat crime and sustain public trust in law enforcement.” Exactly. The police chief and the mayor are public servants; you pay their salaries. Shouldn’t you get straight answers in return?
SPECIAL REPORT: ONE YEAR LATER: NEW TRICKS
One year after we reported that the Chicago Police Department was undercounting the city’s murders, the problem persists—and top brass are up to some new tricks
Editor’s Note: The Big Stall BY ELIZABETH FENNER MAY 11, 2015
CPD’s response to our latest investigation should trouble every Chicagoan who cares about transparency in government.
A few keystrokes. That’s all it would have taken to print out a simple list of the people who were murdered in Chicago in 2013 and 2014. Back on February 27, features editor David Bernstein and contributing writer Noah Isackson requested those data from the Chicago Police Department as part of their latest investigation into the accuracy of the city’s homicide statistics.
The CPD’s response should trouble every Chicagoan who cares about transparency in government. Despite weeks of hounding from Chicago, Marty Maloney, the department’s director of news affairs, didn’t cough up the list until April 26—two months after the request. And at presstime, the CPD has only partially fulfilled an eight-week-old request for case files made under the Freedom of Information Act, delivering just 17 of the 28 files requested. “This is public information,” marvels Bernstein.
Superintendent Garry McCarthy told the City Council last year, “The CPD is a national leader on data transparency.” If that statement is to be anything but an empty boast, all of us must hold him—and his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel—accountable.