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Entries in crime (3)


Remember Tom Cruise predicting crimes in "Minority Report?" We're not far away

The intellectual food fest that is Chicago Ideas Week continues unabated with a dozen or more pretty meaty and provocative gatherings each day. It can leave one's head spinning.

You can go from the future of media, cities and our coming water crisis to a debate on whether we should ration end of life health care. Then there are "labs" on building robots, luring opera audiences, innovation in the gaming industry, preparing seafood and maximizing transparency in an online world.

 There are lots of young folks making and listening to presentations and scads of emerging high-tech entrepreneurs. There's a reassuring air of vitality coursing many of the sessions and the hallways discussions after each gathering.

A criminal justice session caught my attention as much as any so far, with journalist Ray Bonner setting the stage (on a stage) at the Goodman Theatre by noting our nation's depressing incarceration rate: 730 per 100,000 citizens, highest in the world and even topping the likes of Russia and Cubs. The youth incarceration rate is especially dismal, at 336 per 100,000 citizens, leaving all nations in the dust.

He then introduced Richard Berk, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania who applies sophisticated statistical models to discern how to best forecast criminal behavior.

So remember Tom Cruise in "Minority Report" (2002)? The flick is set in 2054 Washington, D.C., which has eliminated most crime due to some brainy folks called "Pre-Cogs" who can look into the future and predict crimes before they take place. Pretty handy.

Well, said Berk, a very respected fellow, we're well on our way there. That sounded a bit hyperbolic, at least until he started rattling off the many ways in which we already attempt to predict criminal behavior. such as in sentencing, parole board and other decisions. We're "lousy" at it, he said, but we do try.

We try to forecast the possibility somebody will commit a homicide while out on parole. We try, too, when we consider bail recommendations and prison housing decisions (the guys likely to be badasses are dispatched to the most onerous cells).

Now, he said, consider the increasing use of GPS, closed circuit television and other technologies when it comes to both tracking any or all of us and also discerning patterns of behavior. Computer chips embedded in a parolee's electronic ankle bracelet can be read by a hidden video camera on a building.

It's all part and parcel of an extensive attempt to do what Cruise's character was doing, especially after he learned that a Pre-Cog was predicting that the character would murder someone soon. Scads of social science research and demographic data come into play as we make sense of distinct patterns of behavior.

Berk's prediction for what's up ahead: "We won't be as effective as Tom Cruise but with each passing year, we're getting closer."

 He was followed by Shawn Henry, a former FBI cyber crime chief; Eva Paterson, San Francisco-based founder of the Equal Justice Society; and Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California. They were all very engaging, though unavoidably one was most drawn to Henry's tales of online skullduggery and the success of bad guys in undermining our world's critical technological infrastructures.

In some cases he recounted, companies had no idea that their seemingly safe intellectual property, research and development, phone conversations and employee information had already been stolen many months earlier. There are organized crime groups on what amount to electronic jihads and we best figure out ways to protect our networks.

Bring on the Pre-Cogs.


Is a heralded mayor getting a pass from the press over crime in Chicago?

Crime in Chicago is a hot story, especially for assignment editors in New York. Press inquiries are flooding the city, especially after a page one story in the New York Times, now more than ever a cheat sheet for insecure and under-resourced media operations.

There is a painful spike in homicides, despite an overall drop in other crimes. It's too early to assess how significant it truly is and whether there's a bonafide, longer-term trend. But, for now, mayhem in the Windy City is a handy hook and easy story, especially if the focus is on victims, overworked hospital emergency rooms and the perhaps facile explanation that's generally taken at face value, namely that it's all the fault of gangs.

The CBS Evening News has now weighed in with two pieces within a week. The first came on July 5. Then came another on Monday. One need not be a pedantic academic criminologist to have find both lacking. A bevy of important factors, including an awful public schools system, insufficient social support services for neighborhoods, insufficient prosecution of gun offenses and debatable reallocation of police, go unmentioned.

And, in all the stories so far, the city's political hierarchy gets a de facto pass. That was true, too, with a Monday CBS package in which anchor Scott Pelley interviewed Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel has had an impressive first year, inheriting a raft of problems, notably financial, and has brought a needed energy and generally unsentimental analysis of what was left behind by Richard M. Daley, his longtime predecessor. He may feel like a one-man Army Corps of Engineers poking around a giant, sludge-laden version of the Bates Motel in "Psycho," finding skeletons hanging everwhere.

But the Pelley interview was confounding, even startling. In particular, there was this exchange:

Pelley: When seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was killed last month, caught in the crossfire, you said, "It's not about crime. It's about values" What did you mean?

Emanuel: We've got two gang bangers, one standing next to a kid. Get away from that kid. Take your stuff away to the alley. Don't touch the children of the City of Chicago. Dont get near them. And it is about values. As I said then, Scott, who raised you? How were you raised? And I don't buy this case where people say they don't have values. They do have values. They have the wrong values. Don't come near the kids---don't touch them."

Where does one start with a response that comes off as if uttered by a judgmental, upper middle-class suburban product who doesn't quite get life in the city? For starters, those gang bangers are all too often kids themselves, certainly in the minds of most psychologists and pediatricians. At minimum, they were just like those victimized youth just a very short time ago.

By casting blame on them, he fails to recognize the extent to which they, too, are victims; of broken homes, dangerous neighborhoods and a public school system that is a mess. The maintenance of the values the mayor apparently holds dear can be a bit complicated when dad is in prison and mom is peddling drugs.

A leader of a big city might have a better understanding of the underlying conditions in which a teen may face a choice between being a victim or being in a gang, rather than blaming the "values" these young people have supposedly chosen for themselves and proceeding to cast virtually all blame on them. What's his own power to try to change the situation?

He is, after all, in charge these days, especially of a schools system he aggressively oversees in valiant pursuit of a turnaround amid dispiriting absenteeism and dropout rates. Nearly incoherently, he told Pelley that we adults will take care of problems like violence so that "You [students] think about your studies," seemingly losing sight of how the violence around them can make it woefully difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn.

Listen to this public radio report and learn of the 9 students at Harper High School who were killed by gun violence with another 28 shot. Good luck in thinking about your studies, boys and girls.

So the ultimate suggestion is that the gang bangers' own moral failing is their decision to transact business in the open, in the presence of blameless and younger folk. It apparently expalins the mayor's suggestion Monday that they should take "their stuff" to the alley and not "touch" the city's children.

It's as if a former chief of staff to the president of the United States had suggested that Iraq's ills could be solved by the Shias and Sunnis taking their stuff to Saddam Hussein's old underground bunkers.

Emanuel is the right guy for a tough job at the right moment but should know better. And bigtime reporters, like Pelley, should do their homework more diligently and inquire about, say, resources and what may be lacking for the police and city agencies which are mandated to provide a variety of family and other support services to impoverished neighborhoods. There is, after all, a guy in City Hall who's been getting the final call on cuts and, given a generally cowed City Council, getting his way.

What is the mayor actually doing, besides opining about "values" as if he were some disembodied voice from a faraway think tank?

Monday's CBS interview included his bringing up plans to close liquor stores and boarding up buildings where gang bangers hang in bad hoods. It fell short of convincing. He could have mentioned what he's doing effectively---or not doing---about the prodigious numbers of guns on the streets and a court system that takes a virtual pass in dealing with them. Real change might make what's going on in alleys not quite so perilous.

Values come in many forms. They also include taking responsibility. When it comes to crime in Chicago, the shrewd fellow at the top at least briefly came off Monday as if copping out.



Bang, bang: One way or another, Chicago will blow you away these days

Those who crave the diversity of urban life were like pigs in slop Sunday as they read the New York Times and Chicago Sun-Times.

First, the most influential daily detailed some of the social glories of being "Single in Chicago." It opened, "It's hard to decide, while sipping a citrine cocktail called Sex on the Roof, what to gawk at first: the go-go dancers in crimson panties or the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, Willis Tower, soaring like a giant glass beanstalk just beyond the windows. Either way, at Roof, the glossy club atop theWit hotel in Chicago, if you're single you can't lose: should a stranger faile to take your breath away, the skyline will."

There are many perils in dropping into any town for a quickie reporting jaunt and locals will deride the limited number of locales visited and a certain gee-whiz-these-Midwest-folks-are-friendly theme, with a New Yorker announcing that the chills she felt on an architectural boat tour had nothing to do with cold weather. "It was because the Windy City blew me away."

That's not all that is blowing folks away these days, and it's why Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his tourism aides just might not be aggressively passing this opus around. A sidebar on the plusses and minuses of traveling solo in Chicago includes this "not so good" matter: "Few avenues are bustling late at night. Take care: Homicides and shootings have increased over the last year."

Yup. Of course, the almost dominantly caucasian crowd tracked at the more upscale joints gravitated to by The Times need not fret. They, and the reporter, would have been reminded of that reality Sunday if they also picked up the Chicago Sun-Times' nearly 4,000-word report, "Chicago Under Fire."

 This piece was about a soaring murder ate, stunning gun violence and, most of all, the victims, who tend to be black and poor and to live far, far from theWit's rooftop bar and all those texting 20-somethings looking to score. But, taken together, they continue to bolster a quickly-forming image of a city out of control that could potentially be a political Achilles heel for a mayor whose first year in office has been an impressive one.

And, interestingly, both tales are about social networking.

Reporter Rosenbloom heralds a website called MeetUp via which local Chicagoans with similar interests can meet to play volleyball, drink or otherwise cavort. This is obviously in addition to just plunking oneself down at some beach or bar and playing things as they lay.

With murder, the Sun-Times noted the work of Andrew Papachristos, a Yale sociologist who's studied Chicago crime. Killings do occasionally occur in random fashion but generally the victims have ties to either the killer or to people associated with the killers."Seventy percent of the killings he studied occured within what Papchristos determined was a social network of only about 1,600 people---out of a population in those neighborhoods of about 80,000."

So gaity and mayhem can all be had via a smart phone supplemented by a credit card or a handgun. Cheery. That helps explain why the Chicago cops are spending more time studying Facebook pages.

And, on Monday, back from vacation, the mayor will announce a new anti-crime initiative of some sort with his smart but beleagurered New York-bred police chief. There have been many anti-crime initiatives announced this past year, with a frustrated jury of citizens still out when it comes to a whirling dervish chief executive and a complex issue for which he's generally avoided personal responsibility.

When his press conference is over, he could always head to the corner of a bar with great vistas, order a Sex on the Roof and nostalgically recall his days of being young and single in the city. At minimum, somebody will tell him they like his suit and tie. We are, after all, really friendly here.