Chicago: It’s surprising how often this happens!


New York Times attempts to cite statistics: It’s surprising how often this happens.

This morning, a headline said this in our New York Times: “Gang-Related Shootings Decline in Chicago.”

That sounded good to us. But uh-oh!

When we sought the specific information, we were confronted by this:
YACCINO (3/20/14): Gang-related shootings here [in Chicago] are steadily declining, officials said on Wednesday, citing violence-reduction efforts that prevent gang retaliation and that are prompting the interest of other cities.

Since the beginning of the year, less than half of the 188 shootings in Chicago were related to gang activity, Police Department numbers show. That represents a sharp drop from previous years, when gangs were responsible for 61 percent of shootings in 2013 and 65 percent in 2012 for the same period of time.
Do you see the problem there? According to those police statistics, the percentage of shootings which is gang-related has dropped so far this year.

Has there actually been a smaller number of gang-related shootings? So far, that wasn’t clear.

Nor did we ever find out! As reporter Steve Yaccino continued, he suddenly switched from “shootings” to “killings.”

Yaccino said overall killings are down. But he didn’t seem to have any figures for gang-related killings:
YACCINO: “The fact is, as soon as we implemented this strategy, that’s when we saw the numbers start turning in the right direction,” Garry F. McCarthy, the superintendent of the Chicago police, said at a news conference.

Violence between the roughly 600 gang factions in Chicago, the third-largest city in the nation, has long been seen here as driving homicide totals, which have received national attention since more than 500 killings were recorded in 2012. Last year, the city witnessed a 17 percent drop in citywide homicides, but the total was still higher than the death tolls in New York and Los Angeles, which also reported decreases last year.

In 2014, the Chicago police say overall killings were down between January and mid-March compared with the same period last year—to 52 from 63. There were 92 homicides in Chicago by this time in 2012.
So far this year, overall killings are down. That said, the big drop seemed to come between 2012 and 2013.

With that, another question arises. When did the Chicago police “implement this strategy,” the strategy which is supposed to be working?

Yaccino didn’t report that either.

The headline said there have been fewer gang-related shootings. That certainly may be the case, but Yaccino never stated the number of gang-related shootings in the relevant years. Nor did he say when the ballyhooed strategy started.

On balance, it sounds like things have been getting better in Chicago. Then too, we have this final problem:
YACCINO (continuing directly): Mr. McCarthy declined to give Chicago’s 23 days of subzero temperatures credit for the drop in shootings. “It hasn’t been winter for the last year and a half,” he said. “There has been a very steady progression in the reduction of shootings.”

Chicago is the city where Hadiyah Pendleton was shot and killed in January 2013, apparently by a gang-related person who fired his gun at the wrong group. Two arrests have been made, not that you’d ever know it.

Everyone should be rooting for Chicago to continue getting better—and for the Times to learn how to work with statistics in a way which supports the claims it makes in its headlines.

After that, we have a dream. Our big newspapers, including the Times, can figure out how to read NAEP scores!


  1. It is almost as if Somerby expects a NY Times reporter to rewrite the press release sent out by the Chicago PD (or Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Bureau) based on looking up the missing stats (which didn't serve the purposes of the PR flack) and making sense of what has really occurred in Chicago. But that would take work, not just knowledge of statistics.

    1. Even if the NY Times reporter spent two days interviewing people and wrote up his own numbers based on research, some damned editor would write a book claiming credit for his work and a half century later some crank of a blogger would claim the reporter made up the quote of the one person whose words he actually took out of the police press release.

      BTW there is no press release posted on the Chicago PD website.


    2. You think the reporter studied the subject and came up with this? Please.

    3. No. I think you don't follow TDH very closely.

  2. Actually, the Police implemented a plan to have one of the coldest winters on record. Once it warms up, watch out! Not that it is the fault of the police, but the weather probably has had as much to do with this. I hope I'm wrong and that the violence continues to decrease.

    1. The NY Times did not note that Mayor Emmanuel was there and did credit the winter for having some impact on the numbers.

      Damn liberal media bias.

    2. Amendment: The Times did mention he was there. Just not his comments on the weather and what implications, if any, he might see this having on Gore's predictions.

  3. I think it happens more often than you let on, which is no surprise.

  4. So shame on the Times. Did any other media who covered the press conference answer the questions BOB asked.

    We don't know. Anything is possible. But lately, musing on mainstream media is largely MSNBC, the NY Times. the Washington Post, and Salon.

  5. "Two arrests have been made, not that you'd ever know about it [if you only read the NY Times]."

    Meanwhile, that tiny regional newsletter, The Chicago Sun-Times, has a section specifically reporting on this very subject, day in, day out.

    1. It doesn't matter that there is better reporting or analysis somewhere else. If the NY Times chooses to write about a topic, it should do so competently. This is like the Yankees playing bush league baseball. Fans will complain and they have every right to expect major league playing in the majors.

    2. Perhaps, but I also think the blogger conflates things a tad when he says that you won't find out something unless the Times does it right. Or is that just "Bob being Bob"?

    3. It matters greatly if your entire premise is that the NY Times is bringing down the entire culture.

      You do realize that not too big a slice of America even reads the NY Times, don't you? Of course not. Bob has told you its the only newspaper that really matters.

    4. The major TV news stations base a lot of their coverage on the Times, so it has impact out of proportion to its number of readers.

    5. So exactly how many picked up on the exciting news out of Chicago based on the NY Times sloppy article

    6. Fox Cable bases a lot of its coverage on the Times? And what about AP and Reuters?

      Have another Quaalude, Dinky.

  6. I don't think the Times understands and respects good statistical analysis. I think that's why Nate Silver left them.

  7. I don't think it's just the times either. I recommend John Allen Paulos' "A mathematician reads the newspaper" for an interesting (although slightly dated) look at the subject