Chicago, IL – A recently released sociological study conducted by two University of Utah researchers has identified a link between Chicago’s 2016 homicide spike and a sharp decline in the number of contacts police made in the wake of department-wide policy changes.
The 98-page study, conducted by S.J. Quinney College of Law presidential professor Paul Cassell, who is also a former federal judge, and University of Utah economics professor Richard Fowles, was posted to the Social Science Research Network on Monday, according to the university website.
“Our research helps to pinpoint the cause of one of the most striking increases in crime in a major American city in recent years,” Cassell said, according to the university website. “Sadly, the cause was a restriction on pro-active police policies forced by the ACLU.”
Those policy changes were implemented as a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), after the group threatened to sue the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in 2015, for what they declared was unfair treatment of minorities, according to the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
Police has used street contacts in cases where there was a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity taking place. The ACLU argued that those “stop-and-frisk” contacts had no connection with preventing crimes, and contended that police were using the method to target minority groups.
In order to avoid a lawsuit, the CPD agreed to alter its policies before the end of 2015.
The department implemented a more extensive documentation process, and required officers to complete the paperwork forms for each of their contacts on the street, the Chicago Tribune reported.
CPD officers noted that the additional forms took more time to complete, and as a result, reduced the number of contacts officers could make on a shift.
The forms also caused increased anxiety for officers, as they analyzed whether or not the legality of the stops would be second-guessed.
Nearly immediately after implementation of the policy change, the number of stop-and-frisk contacts plummeted by 82 percent, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“Through multiple regression analysis and other tools, we conclude that an ACLU consent decree trigged a sharp reduction in stop and frisks by the [CPD], which in turn caused homicides to spike,” Cassel wrote in an editorial on Monday. “What Chicago police officers dubbed the ‘ACLU effect’ was real – and more homicides and shootings were the consequence.”
Chicago’s homicide rate jumped a staggering 58 percent in 2016 – an increase of 274 more victims than the year prior – to a total of 754 people killed during the calendar year, according to the study.
“Because of fewer stop and frisks in 2016, it appears that [conservatively calculating] approximately 239 additional victims were killed and 1,129 additional shootings occurred in that year alone,” the study noted. “And these tremendous costs are not evenly distributed, but rather are concentrated among Chicago’s African-American and Hispanic communities.”
Critics dismissed the study, and contended that more factors contributed to the sharp homicide increase than what the study concluded.
“There’s no question that there’s a relationship between the extent of stop-and-frisk and crime,” Northwestern University professor Wesley Skogan told the Chicago Tribune. “[But] this study claims to find a humongous effect.”
But the study analyzed approximately 20 variables, including sociological factors, weather data, homicides in other areas of the state, and arrest information, throughout the study.
“I can’t tell you that we’ve shown [that if] you take two hydrogens and an oxygen, you’ve got water,” Cassell said. “But we think to a reasonable degree of social science certainty, we’ve shown that there is an effect between the stop-and-frisk declines and the homicides on the streets of Chicago that spiked up in 2016.”
Cassell and Fowles urged CPD policymakers to take another look at the benefits of stop-and-frisk contacts, and said that minority communities need to be reassured that the tactic serves a purpose in keeping them safe, according to the university website.
The researchers also advocated increased use of bodycams, as well as a simplification of the paperwork the officers are required to complete for street stops.
“We think it’s vital that policymakers attempt to figure out what went on [in 2016],” Cassell told the Chicago Tribune. “If you just throw up your hands and say, ‘Social science is never going to tell us for sure,’ then people are going to continue dying on the streets.”
The study, titled, “What Caused the 2016 Chicago Homicide Spike? An Empirical Examination of the ‘ACLU Effect’ and the Role of Stop-and-Frisks in Preventing Gun Violence,” will be formally presented on Apr. 4, according to the university website.