Flashpoint: A Tale of Two Police Forces

(Update: Partial Transcript Below)

How are New York and Chicago trying to stop gun deaths? WNYC Brian Lehrer Show and WBEZ Chicago's Morning Shift co-host a special call-in - live in Chicago and New York - to discuss how the NYPD and CPD are trying to curb violence, and how communities are reacting to different policing strategies.

Guests include:

Callers in both cities, how should your communities be policed? Chicagoans, are the police failing to bring down crime? New Yorkers, are the police keeping crime low but at too high a price in civil liberties? Is there a unified approach that could serve both cities' needs?

New Yorkers, call 212-433-9692 | Chicagoans, call 312-923-9239


Highlights and Partial Transcript


On Policing

Yale criminologist Tracey Meares explains why Chicago has not adopted tactics similar to New York City's controversial "stop and frisk."

Because it’s geographically smaller, New York can try to make the claim that the stop, question, and frisk strategy is a good one to actually tamp down crime. I don’t think there are any empirics that show that that’s true, and it’s also the case that that kind of interaction with people leads to mistrust of the police, which in the long run is not gonna help keep crime down. It does mean in Chicago, though, that the kinds of strategies that Superintendent McCarthy is engaging in, very targeted and focused strategies, are the kinds of things you have to do. Because you’re not going to actually encounter the same amount of people in the same kind of space that you will in a city like New York.

Caller Preston, in Chicago, the son of a former beat cop, explains the nostalgia that many feel for that time.

There was a time when beat cops were really, really common in Chicago. Police officers were able to work in the same neighborhoods for years. You build a relationship, you knew who lived in the neighborhood, you knew what car didn’t belong in the neighborhood. If a crime was committed, you probably have a pretty good idea [who did it]. …That relationship is gone in Chicago right now. …Because of that, you’ve got people who can do things in sort of relative anonymity.

Caller Ralph from the Bronx, who grew up in public housing, agrees, and points out that in New York, officers usually don’t live in the neighborhoods they police.

The only thing that’s gonna change this problem is if the cops are familiar with community and the community is familiar with the police officers. …The cops that are coming in and out of the community are going home to different areas that have nothing to do with public housing.

In the meantime, there continues to be a lack of respect and trust between communities and police. WNYC reporter Kathleen Horan says that parents who have lost children to gun violence in New York feel that policing could improve.

[Parents] do wish their child was more valued or more respected by police when they were alive, and that there could be more collaboration. There’s this kind of talk in many neighborhoods about community policing, about collaborative law enforcement.


On the Role of Gangs in Gun Violence

Tracy Meares says that the gang structure in Chicago may be one reason why the murder rate is higher in Chicago than in New York.

It is true that for a long time, the gangs in Chicago were larger, more organized, more concentrated--and now, the gangs in Chicago are breaking up in particular ways, and when networks of people who are involved in violence break up, that causes more violence. Since the gangs in New York were never as big or as concentrated as the ones in Chicago, that particular problem is not present in New York.

But WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore points out that the term “gang” is usually inaccurate.

’Gang’ can be an easy short-cut in describing something, because people may have a mental picture in their head. [People think] ‘Oh, these are people who are deserving to die, they’re decided to join an organization, so, you know, that’s what it is.’ And in actuality, we’re seeing more street crews, neighborhood formations, people on their blocks getting together. And I think it’s important to note, because ‘gang’ is such a sweeping term. And yeah, Chicago does have gangs, but we have a lot of splintered organizations. The gangs today are nothing the way they were 20 years ago or even 30 years ago when it really was at its peak.


On the Culture of Violence

WBEZ's Natalie Moore says that in poor black communities, a desire to seem masculine and strong can cause a relatively minor altercation to quickly escalate into murder.

It’s hurt feelings, it can be over a girlfriend, it could be someone who just got out of prison is back on the block, it could be honking your horn too loudly on a block that you’re not familiar with, and then someone comes out, and then it gets into an altercation. …You can point to a couple of things: lack of mental health services, I think the stress of living under poverty takes its toll on some people. …and going back to masculinity, if you have access to a gun and you want to protect yourself, prove that you’re hard, not be punked, that’s how these little altercations blow up into major gun violence and murder.

At the same time, as a caller Gahan from New York's East Village says, it can be hard to tell which comes first: the desire to seem macho and tough, or the desire to protect oneself.

You’re talking about a chicken and an egg problem: ‘They’re coming after me; I’d better be armed.’ I don’t know how to end that.

Malek from Market Park in Chicago adds:

If you pull that gun out of the equation, [a dispute] becomes a fist fight, it becomes a rock fight, it might become a stabbing. But if you see video surveillance footage of a lot of the way these people shoot each other, they’re hundreds of feet away from each other because they’re terrified. …If you remove guns out of the equation, I think that’s where these [murder rates] will come down.

An NYC/Chicago Policing Primer


→ ReadWhy Chicago Bleeds (NYDN Opinion) | Why is Chicago Struggling with Gun Violence? New York May Have Answers (CSMonitor) | Tale of Two Cities (NBC) | 5 Must-Know Facts About Chicago's Gun Violence (Colorlines)


→ Interactive: A Stop and Frisk Timeline (WNYC Newsroom)


I believed we could drive down crime even lower, while at the same time improving police-community relations. Ray Kelly believed that too; that's why I hired him as Police Commissioner. Today, New York is the safest big city in America - by far. Boston and Chicago are nice towns, but you are about twice as likely to be murdered there as you are in New York City. -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

→ Watch: NYC Mayor Bloomberg Talks about Crime and Policing at a Brownsville Church (June 2012) [Transcript]