Making crime statistics matter

Making crime statistics matter

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Photo courtesy of MetroCreative

Photo courtesy of MetroCreative

The science of tracking crime stats is a tough one. With a city as diverse in population and neighborhoods, Chicagoans are no stranger to hearing crime numbers thrown at them. However, one group is looking to create research that just doesn’t look at Chicago’s crime rates, but works with communities to get the bigger picture.

That group, Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY, pronounced like “sky”), operates out of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. And at the helm of the Project is Director Rebecca Levin, who spoke with EXTRA on their efforts to improve crime tracking in the city.

“SCY’s role is really as a connector,” said Levin. One of SCY’s long term goals is to create a framework that other researchers can use to help better connect with the communities they observe.

According to Levin, a new approach to researching crime may create a more complete picture of how communities react to crime in Chicago. Part of what SCY does is hold regular meetings with community based organizations, where residents can talk about how crime affects their area and how other residents deal with it.

Though most researchers primarily get their data from the Chicago Police Department, that’s only part of the picture. “Violence is inherently a community based problem,” said Levin. “The problem is that it’s a very narrow way of viewing violence.”

Levin explained that crime stats only tell part of the story, but fail to relay how violence affects people’s well-being.

Though the actual discussions of SCY’s meetings are confidential, Levin has noticed a trend in those talks. “We’re hearing a lot about trust, and the need to build trust between communities and researchers,” she said.

“Trust and mistrust between community residents has been getting a lot of media attention,” said Levin. “But really it’s about trust between community residents and big institutions of all kinds. It’s not just about police. It’s about how communities are respected or not by those big institutions.”

She also noted that these talks may affect how community organizations talk about crime trends. Just last Saturday, the CPD released numbers showing that crime is down by 40 percent since 2011.

“If you know that in your neighborhood, the number of homicides has gone up… and your block is a real hotspot, and you’re afraid to let your kids go out and play, that homicide number for the city is virtually meaningless to you.”

Eventually, Levin and SCY will publish their work after next year, to help other researchers and community organizations connect with each other.

For more information, readers can visit and click the “get involved” tab.

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