Oakland’s Homicide Rate vs. Chicago’s

So here I am on vacation. I slept late; or more accurately, went back to bed after my spouse/best friend went off to work. I got up, microwaved the early-morning coffee, and sat down at the computer.

I happened across a headline about a fatal shooting over the weekend in Oakland — the city’s 52nd homicide this year. That brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend last week during which I rashly said that though Chicago has gotten lots of media attention this year over its shocking wave of killings, Oakland’s rate was still actually many times that of Chicago. Yes — I said “many times.” But doing the arithmetic in my head as I spoke, I corrected myself — Oakland’s rate is higher than Chicago’s, though not “many times.”

Seeing the story about the weekend murder, I decided to quickly run the numbers to see whether my assertion was true. (Reminder for the next time this impulse hits me: When I run the numbers, it’s never “quickly.”)

What I’ve done in each case is to “annualize” the number of homicides by taking the current toll, dividing by 9 to get a monthly average, then multiplying the result by 12 to project a 2016 total based on that monthly total. To get a rate of homicides per 100,000 population, I divided the projected 2016 totals by the city population — or actually, by the number of 100,000s in each city’s population. Oakland’s population is currently estimated at about 420,000 (divisor used in my arithmetic=4.2) and Chicago’s is 2,720,000 (divisor=27.2).

So, as of Monday, September 26, with 52 homicides reported so far in Oakland and 545 reported in Chicago, here are the annualized rates:

Oakland’s 2016 homicide rate per 100,000 residents: 16.39
Chicago’s 2016 homicide rate per 100,000 residents: 26.72

Regard those as rough (but good ballpark) numbers. Each includes a few “justifiable” killings — those committed in self-defense, for instance — that the FBI won’t count in its annual tally of homicides and cases of non-negligent manslaughter.

How much have things changed in the last few years?

In 2012, Oakland experienced a spike in homicides: 127, excluding a handful of killings that were ruled to be justifiable. Chicago had a total of 500 homicides, excluding a half-dozen “justifiable” killings. Using the same method, here are the rates:

Oakland: 31.75
Chicago: 18.45

The FBI calculated the national homicide rate in 2012 at 4.7 per 100,000 population. Chicago’s number was four times the national rate; Oakland’s was more than seven times the national rate.

The limited takeaways from the Oakland vs. Chicago rates:

Oakland’s decline is historic, in a sense: Barring a sudden surge in killings, the city is headed to its lowest annual homicide toll since 1999, when 60 were recorded, and would be the second lowest since 1985, which is as far back as the FBI numbers go. (Yes, I could hunt down the earlier numbers and perhaps will on some future vacation or workday.)

One also observes that 1999 was at the height of the dot-com boom, when employment was high and the regional economy was generally robust. Right now, we’re in the midst of an even bigger boom — characterized by home prices that are out of reach for many. Coincidence or correlation?

Chicago’s murder surge is also historic in a sense, with the projected number representing about a 50 percent increase in homicides in one calendar year. Though the overall total is still far below the terrible years of the early ’90s, when the city’s homicide toll topped 900 in 1991, 1992 and 1994, the city hasn’t seen anything like that year-over-year jump in the past 30 years (and maybe ever).

Yes, He Did

The Berkeley Police Department puts out a daily bulletin summarizing each day’s large and small crimes. The bulletin comes out a few days after the fact, but if you’re concerned about what’s going on in your neighborhood–and we’ve had a series of sexual assaults in the area recently–it’s a good way to catch up.

So here’s an item from last week: a sidewalk grocery snatch that also netted the victim’s wallet, credit cards, and ID. What caught my eye is the thoroughness of the description of the suspect. He, and his declared political leanings, made quite an impression:


In case that graphic doesn’t show up clearly, the suspect description is: “White male, 30-40 years old, straw hat, black ‘Obama’ T-shirt with red/blue printing, pants with high cuffs, no socks, ‘Keen’ brand or similar hybrid hiker/sandle [sic] type shoes, with a green ‘Long’s Drugs’ shopping cart.

Chicago’s on the cornhole map

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The Street Where You Live

Let’s just say you walked out to your car, the way you do every day if you have a car, and you looked in and saw the stereo was gone. Neatly and completely removed.

It happens. No sense getting too worked up. Nobody’s hurt, after all.

But what if it’s the third time it’s happened in this particular car, parked in the middle of your safe, seemingly immune little middle-class neighborhood (and when the stereo isn’t being ripped off, the car’s roof and hood are being kicked in or the windshield smashed)?

Then maybe you start thinking about all the other things that have happened on your safe, seemingly immune street since you moved in back in the late ’80s. You recall in no particular order:

The rapist who was caught after casing the house across the street.

The two laptops someone scooped up from your desk after smashing your kitchen window while you were out at the ballgame.

The innumerable late-evening front-door encounters with victims of empty gas tanks, freeway wrecks or other fictional misfortunes who just needed five or ten bucks to help them deal with the emergency.

The random misfortunate who snatched a purse from a neighbor’s house as the neighbor tried to verify the poor guy’s sketchy story.

The guy who showed up at 1 a.m., pounding on the door and demanding money from your wife while you were working.

The two or three or four other cars broken into in front of your house.

The neighbors who one day couldn’t find their car because it had been stolen overnight.

The stolen car that was dumped on the street, right in front of you, in broad daylight.

The break-in at the across-the-street neighbor’s place.

The break-in at the neighbor’s place three doors up.

The several occasions on which would-be burglars were interrupted while casing targets.

The bikes stolen from the back of your house and from behind one of your neighbors’ homes.

The commuter robbed at gunpoint up the street as he returned for his car after work.

The dad out walking with his kids who had a gun pulled on him during an attempted robbery.

The neighbor whose back-porch Sunday breakfast was interrupted by a guy coming over the fence with a suitcase. The neighbor asked what was going on, and the over-the-fence guy just said, “Stay out of my way” and kept on going.

One way I can look at all this: Hey, no one died. You can replace property, fix windows, buy a new car stereo, and get over your fear and sense of violation. But the way I looked at it when I discovered the stereo gone was not so reasoned and cool. It feels like this place asks a lot sometimes for the privilege of living here, and sometimes I detest the cost.

I’ve got no answers, or apologies, either. Just chewing it over.

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Detailing, West Oakland Style



Tom went to a friend’s birthday party in West Oakland last night. Locally, saying "West Oakland" or "East Oakland" can be code for "mostly poor and mostly crime-ridden." The plan was for Tom to spend the night at his friend’s place; Kate and I were OK with that since he wasn’t going to be abroad in the neighborhood, which, frankly, can be dangerous at night.

The phone rang about 1:30 in the morning. I don’t like middle-of-the-night calls simply because they’re usually wrong numbers or bad news. I had been asleep and wasn’t able to get to the phone before our voicemail kicked in, but I wasn’t assuming the worst: Tom’s always been great about checking in with us when his plans change, and he knows we’d rather he wake us up is something’s going on that we ought to know. I called our voicemail, and there was a message from him: His friend had come out of his house to find Tom’s car, parked on the street in front, fairly seriously vandalized: smashed windshield, smashed passenger’s-side window, and crushed-in roof — apparently someone had climbed on the car and jumped up and down on it.

I listened to the message, and before I could call Tom he called back. He was pretty upset, but he was handling things pretty well: He and his buddies had pushed the roof back out, and he had already thought through calling the police and the insurance company. I was pretty calm, for me — just angry over the wanton destruction involved, really; the important thing was that Tom and his friends were all OK.

Later on, Tom called the police; in Oakland, the cops apparently don’t bother to send anyone out for cases like these, and they took the report over the phone. Then he and a friend drove the car to her house so he could park in her gated driveway — it was only a matter of time until some passerby started impromptu salvage operations on the car’s interior. Kate and I drove down to meet him there — the scene above. Looking the car over, it looked like all the damage came from one person — the same footprints were all over the roof and on a couple of windows that he apparently tried and failed to break. I drove the car the slow way back to Berkeley. I thought maybe I’d get some reaction from people on the street — "Hey, what happened to your car?" — and I had a good line ready: "Just got it detailed!"   

Now, I just feel bad for Tom. He and some of his friends have grown attached to it during their trips to concerts, and he calls it the "Machine Messiah." It’s just sad to see your wheels trashed. But he says, "The Machine Messiah will roll on."