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Low Trust in Police Complicates Crime Problem in Chicago

Low Trust in Police Complicates Crime Problem in Chicago

by Steve Crabtree

Story Highlights

  • 68% of Chicago's "fragile community" residents want more police presence
  • However, 59% know "some" or "a lot" of people treated unfairly by police
  • 60% say most people in their area view police negatively

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Reflecting widespread concern among Chicago residents about crime, 68% of adults living in Chicago's low-income neighborhoods -- called "fragile communities" in a new report from Gallup and the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO) -- say they would like the police to spend more time than they currently do in their area. That compares with 54% of fragile community residents nationwide who want a greater police presence where they live, and 29% of Americans overall.

Bar graph. The desired police presence that key U.S. groups would prefer for their communities.

Chicago's crime problem has drawn a great deal of national attention in recent years. The city saw 777 homicides in 2016, the most in 19 years. And although that number fell to 660 in 2017 and an estimated 561 in 2018, Chicago remains more dangerous than most other large cities in the U.S.

Their concentration in poverty-stricken communities is a major factor in why Chicago's minority residents are disproportionately affected by the city's crime problem. One 2017 analysis found that Chicago is the United States' second-most-segregated city (after Detroit), and its minority communities are the most vulnerable to violent crime. Another recent study by researchers at Northwestern University found that, while absolute levels of crime in Chicago have fallen since the 1980s, the decline has been greatest in higher-income communities. As a result, relative inequality in crime between the city's safest and most dangerous neighborhoods has increased by 10% in recent years.

The current CAO/Gallup study finds that almost half of black residents in Chicago's fragile communities (47%) say they either have witnessed a situation in which someone was injured or killed, or have been in a situation in which they feared they themselves would be injured or killed. That proportion is higher than the study found in other racial groups in Chicago's fragile communities (39%) or among fragile community residents nationwide (36%). Further, despite the citywide decline in crime rates in recent decades, about half of Chicago's fragile community residents (49%) say crime in their area has increased in recent years, while just 11% say it has decreased.

Perceptions of Police Treatment of Residents of Chicago's Fragile Communities

At the same time that Chicago's fragile communities need greater protection, these residents are also among the least trusting of their local police and criminal justice system of any fragile community in the country. The rift between law enforcement and black Chicagoans in particular was exacerbated after it was disclosed that the city's police department covered up a 2014 dashcam video in which a black teenager was shot 16 times by a white police officer. The incident highlighted a long-standing culture of corruption and impunity in Chicago law enforcement that the city is still struggling to address.

The CAO/Gallup study finds that:

  • Almost six in 10 Chicago-area fragile community residents (59%) say they know "some" or "a lot" of people who have been treated unfairly by the police, vs. 45% of fragile community residents nationwide and 36% of Americans overall.

  • About one-third of Chicago's fragile community residents (34%) say they have "a lot" of respect for their local police, significantly less than the 48% of fragile community residents nationwide and 54% of Americans overall who do.

  • Sixty percent of Chicago's fragile community residents say most people in their area view their local police "negatively" or "very negatively," vs. 44% of fragile community residents nationwide and 19% of Americans overall.
Bar graph. Views of local police forces among key U.S. groups.


Chicago's fragile community residents want law enforcement to spend more time in their neighborhoods, but a lack of trust makes it difficult for them to partner with local police in controlling crime. As a recent investigation of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded, trust between the CPD and residents of the city's crime-stricken neighborhoods "has been broken by systems that have allowed CPD officers who violate the law to escape accountability. This breach in trust has in turn eroded CPD's ability to effectively prevent crime; in other words, trust and effectiveness in combating violent crime are inextricably intertwined."

These findings highlight the extent to which Chicago's long-standing violent crime problem may both cause and be perpetuated by low levels of confidence and trust in law enforcement, especially in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods. But the fact that more than two-thirds of the city's fragile community residents favor a greater police presence also suggests many are eager to move past that mistrust to restore order to their neighborhoods.

Though New York City's crime reduction strategies have not been without controversy, that city has achieved more than 20 consecutive years of falling violent crime rates through a combination of community policing and the visibility of nonprofit groups addressing social needs like jobs, health and counseling. Results from the new CAO/Gallup report highlight the connections between poverty and crime and lack of opportunity in education, employment and health services. The results suggest that putting greater focus on a broad-based approach to facilitating development in fragile communities would help Chicago's leaders lower crime and improve relations with law enforcement over the long term.

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