As the city nears the end of a year marked by a massive spike in violence, the number of arrests in Chicago has fallen by 28 percent since 2015, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of crime statistics.
The number of arrests in Chicago is on target to be the city’s lowest since at least 2001, the Sun-Times' report found.
Chicago police were on pace to make roughly 50,000 arrests in 2016, which is down from over 69,000 arrests the previous year. The year’s current total accounts for less than half the city’s arrests in 2010, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office.
According to the Sun-Times analysis, arrests are down in every district in the city. The steepest drops can be seen in high-crime areas, like Englewood and Austin.
Additionally, narcotics arrests have fallen by about half, which could be tied to a new state law that took effect this summer decriminalizing possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. The CPD is expected to make 4,200 arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2016. That’s down from 20,000 arrests five years ago.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson claimed the numbers reflect the CPD’s focus on addressing gun violence and improving relationships community relations, according to the Sun-Times report.
“We want to arrest the right people at the right times for the right reasons,” Johnson told the paper. “But just indiscriminately stopping people? No. We cannot arrest our way out of this.”
Johnson told the Sun-Times that the department is relying less on “broken window” policing, a strategy that emphasizes heavy enforcement of low-level crimes to send a message to criminals. The superintendent explained that the CPD is prioritizing gun crimes over low-level narcotics offenses.
Additionally, Johnson rejects the “Ferguson effect,” a theory that claims violence has risen because cops are holding back amid protests over police violence. However, he told the paper that many police feel “vilified,” while some have been slowed down learning new legal requirements for street stops.
Meanwhile, civil rights groups have welcomed the decline in arrests, according to the report.
“Our perspective is: The fewer people in jail, the better it is for our communities,” Deangelo Bester, executive director of the Workers Center for Racial Justice, told the Sun-Times.
Bester explained that resources from CPD stops could be diverted back into neighborhood development.
Natalie Howse, president of the Cook County Bar Association, told the Sun-Times that her group supports “policing that is more concerned with respect for the rule of law and individual rights, rather than the number of arrests.”
“If the Chicago Police Department has placed greater focus on reducing the violent crime that plagues our city, and that new emphasis has temporarily resulted in fewer arrests of non-violent offenders, the CCBA welcomes that strategy so long as the cost is not allowing black communities to descend into lawlessness,” Howse said.
Some officers, who spoke to the Sun-Times on the condition of not being named, told the paper that cops are being less aggressive because they're worried about being caught on video making an honest mistake in the line of duty. Others dismissed that reasoning, arguing that body cameras and documentation will help cops do their jobs.
"Those are people looking for an excuse," a veteran North Side supervisor told the Sun-Times. "What they're saying is that I liked it better when no one was recording when I trounced on someone's head."