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).

An American Coot in Oakland (with Very Large Greenish Feet)


An American coot (Fulica americana) on the rocks next to the Oakland ferry terminal last week. I took the picture (through a window) for one reason: While these coots are omnipresent, cruising the local waterways, I have never seen one out of the water and had no idea what huge, strange feet they have: big, greenish things with prominent claws on the end of each toe. (click on the image for a bigger version and a better view of the coot feet in their full bipedal grandeur).

West Oakland Roadside Attraction


Here’s a set of pictures that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while. Last fall, some creative folks–artists and performers and super-capable do-it-yourselfers–created a sort of carnival on a vacant lot in West Oakland. I had heard about it from a reporter of ours who did a little story on it, then Kate spotted a piece about it in one of the local papers. So late one afternoon in November, we drove over there–10 or 15 minutes from home–to see what was up.

The attraction was called Peralta Junction, and involved a sideshow, a calliope, a life-size version of the game Mouse Trap (a performance that happened well after sunset, and my pictures didn’t turn out well), and local artisans selling a range of old-timey clothing and other modern-antique wares. It was really fun.

Here’s the slideshow, below, mostly featuring the guy who did the sideshow act. He hammered a butter knife into one of his nostrils. He passed his body through a tennis racket. He lay on a bed of nails while a second bed of nails was placed on his chest and someone from the crowd stood on it. I don’t know the performer’s name and wish I did–it was a funny and thoroughly engaging show.

Annals of Public-Education Community Outreach

A friend shared this message in which an Oakland public school–a flatlands school with a largely poor and minority population–is allegedly trying to communicate an important event to students’ families. I’m at a loss to understand what the people who put this out might have been thinking. Maybe that they are communicating to a bunch of artificial speech machines who will now what the heck they are talking about even if no human can. I especially like the time advertised for the “Community. Meetandgreet”: April 30, 2013, from “Eight Thousand Ten-Hundred until Nine Thousand Ten-Hundred.”
Did anyone listen to this machine-generated message before they robocalled families with it? Did anyone consider having a human being record a message that might have been a little more personal, not to mention a whole lot more intelligible? Did anyone wonder how this would sound to the majority of school parents who are primarily Spanish speakers (or maybe they got their own Spanish-language machine voice).
It’s hard to believe that this kind of pseudo-communication would be found acceptable at an affluent school where parents demand administrators tell them what’s happening at the school.

Crime Statistics, Lives Lost

A little earlier this month, I wrote something about being preoccupied by a small database project on Oakland’s homicides from last year. I should use the word “small” advisedly. Even though homicides represent a small slice of Oakland’s overall crime for 2012–the 500 or so shootings, the 2,200 other assaults, the 214 rapes, the 4,126 robberies, the 12,549 burglaries, the 7,020 stolen vehicles, the 6,006 larcenies–violent death casts a uniquely dark shadow across a community and robs it of any sense of security.

That’s the abstract level. On a more personal level, I wanted to gather as much information as I could on who had died, how they had died, and the aftermath of the deaths. That meant going from the Oakland Police Department’s often incomplete daily spreadsheets, which note times and locations of reported homicides, to media accounts that have the identities of victims. This is far from a novel project, unfortunately; the Oakland Tribune has been doing profiles on all the city’s homicide victims for the last several years (in fact, when I hit a dead end on finding names in several of these case, the Oakland police suggested we check the Trib’s year-end wrap-up, which had yet to be published). Back in the mid-90s, I edited a long series of stories at The San Francisco Examiner in which we tried to do a personal profile of every San Francisco homicide victim for a calendar year (we had reporters chasing after homicide investigators for details in more than 100 cases, I think; I was even less popular than usual among the reporters). Many news organizations have undertaken similar enterprises. The common thread in all of these projects, I think, is an attempt to humanize the people lost in the statistics.

As I wrote earlier, one pattern that emerged pretty early looking at all these cases was how relatively seldom anyone was arrested in the killing (at KQED News, we did a story last week that took a quick look at the most obvious reasons for the low arrest rate: lack of police resources, an underfunded crime lab, and, most important, the fact many people in the neighborhoods suffering the most from the plague of violence simply don’t trust the police).

For that story, we turned my homicide database into a map (below). You can click on the dots for the basic details of every death. Red dots show homicides that have not yet been solved. Green dots show cases that have been “cleared”–which means someone’s been arrested and charged. Yellow dots are cases ruled to be justifiable homicide. The single blue dot is for an officer-involved shooting also ruled to be justifiable homicide.


A Month-Plus of Oakland Violence

On Super Bowl Sunday, there was a shooting in the 3300 block of Adeline Street in West Oakland. What made it stand out from the background of shootings in the city was the toll: seven reported wounded. So that afternoon, I put together a map and list of the reported shootings over the past week. That spate of violence was enough for Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan to call a press conference, promise to redouble the department’s efforts to fight crime, and to appeal to the public to report shootings and illegal guns to police.

There’s little evidence that the pace of the shootings has slackened since then. The toll for the past month, going back to January 29, is 14 dead and 29 wounded (one of the killings was a stabbing; one of those wounded was a man shot by police after a reported robbery).

But that toll minimizes the frequency of firearms incidents in the city. From Feb. 1 through today, the Oakland police report 45 incidents of “assault with a firearms on a person,” 41 incidents of shooting at dwellings or vehicles (either inhabited or uninhabited), 94 robberies involving firearms, seven cases of willfully discharging a firearm in a negligent manner, 14 cases of exhibiting firearms during the commission of another crime, two cases of carjacking with a gun (there are a few incidents in the OPD database listed under more than one of these categories).

An updated map is below. Each placemarker includes the available details on the incidents reported (I’ve limited the maps to homicides, reported shootings of people, and other incidents in which guns were apparently fired).

One pattern in the map: It’s striking to see how few shootings occur above (east or north of) Interstate 580. If there’s a geographic boundary to shootings that seems to hold for most of the city, that’s it.

View A Month of Oakland Violence in a larger map

Friday Night Ferry (and Train)


If the world of intermodal transportation entrances you–and few among us can resist the charms of cargo containers on ship, rail, and truck–then the area around the port of Oakland is for you. Upon disembarking from the ferry at Jack London Square on Friday night, we encountered a freight train stopped at the corner of Second and Clay streets. The crossing gates were down, but the train was at a dead stop, so it was safe to cross. Picture-taking ensued. After five minutes or so, the locomotive horn sounded, and the freight began to roll. Amazing to contemplate the power and energy required to get so much weight moving in such short order. One minor drama: As the train rolled across the intersection, a pedestrian decided to run across the street in front of it (see if you can spot that moment in the slide show below). It wasn’t really a close call, but you kind of wonder what (beyond pure ignorance of the consequences of stumbling and falling) would prompt somebody to try that.

Winter While We’re Not Looking


It’s raining tonight here in Berkeley. It rained a liittle here on Friday, too, and some more a few days before that. Except for the fact the rain has only added up to a large thimbleful so far, it’s almost like a real winter has snuck in to Northern California. A couple more little storms might shuffle through this week, but the forecasters seem to be competing with each other to display the most pronounced lack of enthusiasm about the prospects for any appreciable rain falling. One can understand why they’re a little out of sorts. February is a time when storms have made history in California, when meteorology is a matter of life and death. This year, the weather scientists here are keeping their eyes peeled for computer models that might portend a tenth of an inch of rain.

But we had a beautiful day waiting for this evening’s rain to move in. Low cumulus type clouds beating their way to the east and in the spaces between them you could see high clouds and condensation trails. Kate, Thom and I went to Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley to see storyteller/country picker David Holt. Afterward, we drove down to Oakland’s Pill Hill neighborhood for lunch (non-East Bay types: Pill Hill is the site of hospitals and medical centers, thus the name). On the way down Telegraph I looked up through the roof window and thought it would make a swell cellphone camera shot. So that’s where that picture up there came from. (It was processed in an iPhone app called Instagram, so the contrast is much higher than the original scene, which was shot in color). I did not even notice the bird when I shot the picture, and even if I had I could never have placed it so nicely at the convergence of those two contrails on the right. (No Photoshopping here–unlike this guy.)

And the picture below is from yesterday. I wrote a little something last week about the profusion of blossoms in these parts, winter or no winter. Here’s more evidence:


Eight Days of Oakland Violence

[Update, 2/27/12: I’ve updated the map below with reported shootings for the rest of February 2012. An explanatory post is here: A Month-Plus of Oakland Violence.]

Twenty-eight people shot, and seven of them killed, since last Sunday. That’s the toll in Oakland, as far as I can glean from news reports (detailed below; those numbers exclude about 45 other episodes, mostly robberies, in which guns were used in Oakland).

Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a lot, though the Oakland Police Department’s latest weekly crime report, with preliminary numbers through last Sunday, actually suggests an overall drop in violent crimes so far this year compared to the year-ago period and the three-year running average. Anyway, the thing that made me do this was the report of seven people shot on a West Oakland street earlier today. News reports of the past week are listed below, and below them is a quick Google Map I put together.

Sunday, Feb. 5: Seven shot Sunday afternoon in West Oakland and North Oakland: Victims said to be in stable condition after a possible shoot out between two groups in 3300 block of Adeline Street.

Saturday, Feb. 4: One killed in East Oakland shooting Saturday: “About 2:40 p.m., officers responded to a report of a shooting in the 400 block of 105th Avenue, near Knight Street, in the Sobrante Park neighborhood, police said. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. Police said they have no motive and nobody in custody.”

Friday, Feb. 3: Four wounded in Oakland shooting Friday night: “About 10 p.m., officers responded to a call reporting multiple gun shots fired in the intersection of 45th Avenue and International Boulevard, Officer Kevin McDonald said. The victims were taken by ambulance to an East Bay hospital, police said.”

Friday, Feb. 3: Murder report: Oakland Police Department tabular data (the department’s running summary of serious crimes in the city) includes a report of a murder in the 9800 block of C Street (East Oakland) at 12:20 p.m. I haven’t found a media account of this case.

Thursday-Friday, Feb. 2-3: Two killed, three wounded in spate of shootings in Oakland: “Two men were killed and three others wounded in five separate shootings between Thursday morning and Friday afternoon.”

Thursday, Feb. 2: Murder report: Oakland Police Department tabular data (the department’s running summary of serious crimes in the city) includes a report of a murder in the 400 block of 19th Street (downtown, close to the 19th Street BART station) at 7:42 p.m. I have found no media account of this case.

Thursday, Feb. 2: Oakland taco truck shootout wounds two: “A robbery attempt at an Oakland taco truck ended in a shootout early Thursday that wounded the taco vendor and an assailant, the latest in a spate of holdups involving food trucks in the city, police said.”

Sunday, Jan. 29: Two injured in East Oakland shooting: “The shooting was reported at around 7:50 p.m. in the 8900 block of Macarthur Boulevard, an Oakland police officer said. The two victims drove away from the scene on Interstate Highway 580. California Highway Patrol officers stopped to assist the victims, and they were transported by ambulance to a local hospital.”

Sunday, Jan. 29: Two dead four injured in three Oakland shootings: “The most violent shooting happened in the central part of the city, in the 1700 block of 20th Avenue at 1:48 a.m., where four people were fired on. One died at the scene, and a second was in critical condition. The remaining two are in stable condition. Police had just come from the 3400 block of Ettie Street in West Oakland, where another person had been shot and killed.” (The Oakland Police Department tabular data shows the murder on Ettie Street, in the northwest corner of West Oakland near the MacArthur Maze, as occurring in the 3200 block.)

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Further Adventures in News and Media

So, although I haven’t been posting much the past little while; or at least I haven’t been posting much here. I’ve been doing some blogging and chatting and other social media stuff, both officially and unofficially, for my employer, a public radio station in San Francisco.

The two weekends before this, I did a live blog for the San Francisco 49ers NFL playoff game against the New Orleans Saints and then a sort of hybrid live blog/chat for the 49ers game against the New York Giants last week (along with a couple other posts before and after each game).

Then this weekend, when our newsroom was unstaffed, things started to happen in Oakland. The Occupy Oakland movement, which had been evicted from the plaza outside City Hall after repeated clashed with police and other authorities, had announced its intention to go out and seize a vacant building in the city. Its target was a shuttered convention center near downtown. Yesterday was “move-in day,” and a crowd I’ve heard estimated at 1,000 to 2,000 showed up for a march across downtown to take over the, building, which they said they wanted for a meeting space and social center. The police were ready for the move and blocked the takeover. All they had to do then was deal with the crowd of demonstrators. When push came to shove, as seems inevitable in Oakland, protesters threw stuff at police, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, etc., and before the dust settled, 400 people had been arrested.

I sat down early in the story and started following what was happening through online sources and writing it up on yet another live blog. Along the way, I decided to try an experiment with Storify, a platform that essentially allows you to build a running narrative of an event or subject using online media–Twitter and Facebook posts, blog entries, video, audio and photos from whatever online source you can find. The result is embedded below. One surprise: It actually kind of took off in a minor way, traffic-wise. It became the featured post on the Storify home page and was also picked up by an Oakland community news blog. Anyway, here’s to experimenting (and yes, many questions of journalistic practice are raised by all these tools and the ability to become a one-person newsroom. I’m thinking about all that):