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McCarthy: count shootings to gauge crime across the country

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

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Updated: March 24, 2013 6:09AM

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy is calling for cities across the country to count their shootings and for the FBI to include the totals in its annual Uniform Crime Report.

Chicago began keeping track of shootings as a specific crime category after McCarthy took office in 2011, following the lead of New York and Los Angeles.

But shootings are not a category in the Uniform Crime Report, which is used to study crime across the country.

“There is a national movement to fix this,” McCarthy said, “to better reflect what’s happening in the crime world.”

Shootings are a more accurate barometer of violent crime than murders, McCarthy said.

Whether or not a shooting victim dies depends on lots of factors such as medical care, the number of bullet wounds and the health of the victim, he said.

McCarthy’s decision to count shootings as a crime category is part of a larger effort to revamp the way the Chicago Police Department tracks crime.

In the past, for example, the department’s crime summary didn’t include murders that happened in the city but occurred on property under another agency’s jurisdiction — like expressways patrolled by the Illinois State Police.

Now every murder in the city’s boundaries is part of the total, McCarthy said.

“This is about transparency, this is about reality,” he said. “I don’t think John Q. Citizen really cares (if the State Police have jurisdiction over a killing.) That’s a murder in the city of Chicago.”

McCarthy pointed to Chicago’s year-to-date tally of murders through Thursday.

The total was 56, two fewer than over the same period of 2012.

Three of those 56 murders were inside the city’s limits — but didn’t occur within the Chicago Police Department’s jurisdiction, McCarthy said. “So we’re really down five murders, but our statistics show we’re only down two,” he said.

McCarthy said he’s also considering changing the way other crimes are categorized.

Cell-phone snatching, for instance, is counted as theft. But depending on the force that’s used to steal a phone, he said the city might start counting some of them as robberies.

As for the new category of “shooting incidents” — defined as situations in which at least one person is hit with a bullet, including a murder — the Chicago Police Department counted 221 of them through Thursday, compared to 220 over the same period last year.

Before McCarthy took office, the department tracked shootings through a different crime category: aggravated battery with a firearm.

But shootings that occurred during the commission of another crime — such as a robbery or murder — were not included in the totals for aggravated battery with a firearm, McCarthy explained.

“We didn’t have an accurate way to count shootings,” he said.

So McCarthy ordered his researchers to look back to 2010 and pull out shooting statistics from cases like robberies and murders to come up with a realistic benchmark the department could use for future years.

Now a national group of police executives is studying changes to the Uniform Crime Report, including whether cities should report shootings to the FBI as a separate crime category. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics established the group.

One of the group’s co-chairmen is former Chicago Police Supt. Charles Ramsey, who is currently Philadelphia’s police commissioner and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.

“There will certainly be conversations about shootings, as that may be more reflective of the overall violence than assaults and homicides,” said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association.

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