Chicago Killings Cost $2.5 Billion as Murders Top N.Y.’s
When Gregory Glinsey was fatally shot while buying ice for his mother’s 80th birthday party, the emotional toll on his family was incalculable. The immediate price to the public was $800 for his autopsy.
His slaying and 505 others in Chicago last year scarred it with a rising homicide rate as most cities saw declines. Another 2,000 non-fatal shootings in Chicago added costs measured in shuttered businesses, lost wages, disability checks and depopulation. In Glinsey’s case, the price of his random killing mounted before his mother knew her 54-year-old son wouldn’t return from a convenience store in the South Shore neighborhood.
More than three dozen police swarmed the scene of the Feb. 19, 2012, shooting, which also killed a 19-year-old and injured five other teenagers. After $1,000 ambulance rides to hospitals for each survivor, the combined trauma-care bill would, on average, top $250,000. Gunfire outside Budget Food & Liquors cost its owner a tenant and $1,000 in monthly rent: A tax preparer next door bolted after a bullet from another shooting ripped past a secretary’s head.
“Violence hurts the economy, and sooner or later it permeates everything,” said Teyonda Wertz, head of South Shore’s chamber of commerce. “Unless we change our crime situation, it’ll kill us.”
All told, shootings cost Chicago $2.5 billion a year, or about $2,500 per household, according to Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Many of those costs are intangibles, Ludwig said, like keeping people from going outside or letting their children walk to school. Reducing even a fraction of the carnage, though, would free up more money than the city expects to save each year from the closing of 49 elementary schools approved yesterday by the school board.
Nationwide, the crime lab estimates, gun violence costs $100 billion, roughly the salaries of 2 million police officers.
Chicago, the third-largest U.S. city, last year recorded a homicide rate more than three times New York City’s and double that of Los Angeles. It also had about 900 more non-fatal shootings than New York despite having a third as many residents. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is co-founder of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News.
In a nation beset by handgun deaths and injuries, Chicago is a big city that bleeds more than almost any other.
The bloodshed last year prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat who is President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, to reverse a money-saving decision that let police ranks drop to the lowest in at least five years.
Citywide through May 12, homicides were down 39 percent and shootings 28 percent. To help accomplish that, though, the police in just three months burned through almost two-thirds of the entire year’s overtime-pay budget, which the department said is $38 million.
“It’s a shell game,” said Pat Camden, a spokesman for Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police. “We are shifting things back and forth trying to appease the aldermen and the public.”
In South Shore, the price of such violence can be gauged in its grim decline, from a vibrant redoubt among neighborhoods that have long been synonymous with urban mayhem to one on the verge of joining their ranks.
The community of 50,000 people on the south side of the city of 2.7 million is the childhood home of first lady Michelle Obama, who grew up on the second floor of a bungalow on Euclid Avenue. There she befriended the children of the city’s black elite, including civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr. It’s where software pioneer Larry Ellison, co-founder and chief executive of Oracle Corp. (ORCL), was raised and where health-care consultant Dr. Eric Whitaker, one of the Obamas’ closest friends, lives.
The neighborhood is racially homogenous, 95 percent black after most white residents fled integration decades ago. Yet South Shore is economically divided, with homes selling for anywhere from $10,000 to more than $1 million.
Amid the violence, it’s losing its human and commercial lifeblood. While Chicago’s population fell 6.9 percent from 2000 to 2010, the neighborhood’s sank 19.2 percent, according to the city and Census Bureau.
The number of businesses dropped by a third from 2005 through 2012 in the postal zone that covers the neighborhood, according to Chicago licensing data compiled by Bloomberg. During that period, the citywide total grew by 1.3 percent. The merchants who remain find it tougher to compete.
“In higher-crime neighborhoods it’s more costly to run a business, both in terms of attracting customers and workers,” said Robert Greenbaum, a professor at Ohio State University who has studied the subject. The loss of nighttime business hours robs the U.S. gross national product of as much as $7.4 billion a year, according to research by Ludwig and Philip Cook, authors of “Gun Violence: The Real Costs.”
Some studies suggest it contributes directly to people leaving cities. University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, co-author of the book “Freakonomics,” found that each homicide leads to the departure of 70 people.
South Shore is providing ample motivation to flee. Last year, 19 homicides occurred within its three square miles. Residents dubbed one particularly violent stretch Terror Town, where Glinsey was hit in the chest after a burst of gunfire from a car that pulled in front of the convenience store. The 19-year-old who was killed was shot in the back while running inside.
On April 30, hours before police officials announced another drop in homicides, the temperature hit 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) for the first time in almost eight months. South Shore erupted: Three people were shot and one killed in six hours.
“There is no safe time of day to go out anymore,” said Arthur Lyles, an assistant pastor of Christ Bible Church of Chicago, which sits in the middle of Terror Town. Lyles has a grandson and nephew wounded by gunfire. “You can be shot at 10 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon or 9 at night.''
The tab for taxpayers and society starts running as soon as a bullet strikes someone, from detectives on the street and trauma surgeons at the city’s public hospital to months of rehab for victims and years of court proceedings for the accused.
The first to arrive at the Budget Food & Liquors crime scene that February evening was the “paper car,” police slang for the unit charged with completing a preliminary report.
Detectives and evidence technicians soon converged on the corner of 79th Street and Essex Avenue. Lower-priority calls were pushed aside. Suspicion of gang involvement brought more, including patrolmen to discourage retaliation. With Glinsey dead on the sidewalk, a homicide team consisting of a sergeant and a handful of investigators were dispatched, said Joseph Salemme, commander of detectives for the South Side.
The initial response cost as much as $6,000 in salary alone for the roughly five hours that officers spent gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses.
Then there were the incidentals: The medical examiner’s office paid $4.58 for the body bag, including the plastic sheets and tape used to seal Glinsey’s remains for the trip to the morgue.
No one’s been charged in the slaying of the unemployed former steelworker who lived with his mother. If suspects are arrested, police must charge or release them within 48 hours, so officers often put in night and weekend duty to meet the deadline.
“Every murder incurs overtime,” Salemme said, with extreme cases consuming 1,000 to 1,500 hours of “premium pay.”
It can take years to develop tips from reluctant witnesses, and that doesn’t come cheap -- detective pay ranges from $63,642 to $96,444.
Buffeted by the worst recession since the Great Depression, the city has tried to make its force leaner. Emanuel’s predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley, started the trend in 2008 by not filling vacant police positions.
Emanuel continued the reductions after taking office in May 2011. Last year’s homicide spike came after the number of rank-and-file officers dropped to 12,236 in 2011 from 13,749 in 2006, according to pension-fund records.
There weren’t enough cadets to replace those retiring, and Emanuel in October pushed for hiring more than 450 cops as part of his $8.3 billion spending plan for 2013. Last week, the police academy graduated 105, its largest class since 2005.
“I’ve been saying for two years we have the number of officers we need,” Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a statement. “Today Chicago has more officers per capita than any of the five major police departments in the country.”
He attributed this year’s gains to giving district commanders more authority and accountability as well as “a return to community policing, a comprehensive gang violence reduction initiative, a more holistic approach to narcotics enforcement.”
The reduction in violence so far this year hasn’t yet registered with the public. A Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll taken April 30 to May 6 showed the proportion of city voters who disapprove of Emanuel’s handling of crime had risen to 47 percent, up from 34 percent a year earlier.
On top of the cost of policing comes the cost of care. The teenagers injured alongside Glinsey were taken to three private South Side hospitals. The workhorse for treating the city’s gunshot victims, though, is Cook County hospital, the hulking public facility on the West Side that inspired the TV series “ER.”
On a recent Saturday night, five of eight occupied intensive-care beds in the unit had shooting victims. One man had 10 bullet holes, including one through his jaw that would require a feeding tube for at least six weeks and nursing-home care. Another had a spinal-cord wound that would leave him a quadriplegic and a “significant burden on the taxpayer,” said Dr. Andrew Dennis, 43, a trauma surgeon.
This wasn’t an extraordinary night. Last year, the hospital treated 846 shooting victims at a total cost of about $44 million, with trauma care averaging $52,000 per case, according to the county. Seventy percent of the victims treated at what’s formally called John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital have no insurance, so their bills are part of the annual $500 million taxpayer tab for the county health system.
During the heat of the summer, Dennis said, he’s seen as many as 20 gunshot victims in one 24-hour shift. Several times a month, he’ll see repeat customers. Often, doctors leave the bullets inside because taking them out surgically is more risky.
“Most people who leave, leave with their bullets in them forever,” said Dennis, who exhibits a police officer’s toughness. In fact, he’s a medical director for the Cook County Sheriff’s office and carries a gun when not at the hospital.
For the 98 percent of gunshot victims who depart alive, their next stop is often the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Gunshot wounds represent about one in 20 of the institute’s patients, said Dr. Elliot Roth, its medical director. More of its gunshot victims have multiple wounds than those from a decade ago, the result of increasing use of semi-automatic weapons. That can mean exponentially greater neurological damage that is more expensive to treat, Roth said.
Care can cost $100,000 or more -- covered by taxpayers if the patient is indigent -- with the average about $35,000 and inpatient stays lasting about six weeks. Once a victim goes home, making it wheelchair accessible often costs tens of thousands of dollars.
As victims recover, the cost of prosecuting attackers mounts. Police earn overtime for court appearances outside normal shifts, much of it wasted because it’s not uncommon for murder trials to be delayed as many as 20 times. Six to eight officers and detectives may testify.
Other costs are less tangible: lost wages and squandered hopes.
Kelley Boyd, who has lived in South Shore for the past decade, became a harbinger for the neighborhood when he was shot at age 16 while walking down a street several miles away. Costs associated with his wounds have been accumulating for two decades.
He spends days in a wheelchair in his three-room apartment, watching TV and collecting his $700 monthly disability check and $100 in food stamps.
He points with an index finger to a spot left of his nose where a bullet entered, leaving him partially paralyzed on his right side. He struggles for vocal clarity, occasionally snapping the fingers of his left hand in search of words.
As a teenager, Boyd planned to become an accountant. That’s roughly $600,000 in lost wages for South Shore, assuming a starting salary for a tax preparer of about $40,000.
“I’m not through,” he says, showing a flash of anger. “I’m too smart to be doing this. It’s not what I want for myself.”
Beyond Boyd’s broken venetian blinds, hundreds of people were attacked on South Shore’s streets in recent years. The 420 shootings in 2011 and 2012 in the police district that includes most of the neighborhood represented a two-year increase of 20 percent, four times as large as the city as a whole, police data show. So far this year, shootings in the district are down 55 percent from the same period in 2012 and 15 percent from 2011.
The socioeconomic opposite of Terror Town, where Glinsey was killed, is a 12-block section of South Shore called Jackson Park Highlands. It’s distinctive for its architecture, affluence and isolation.
The Highlands’ well-educated professionals represent a vital component of the neighborhood’s future that the violence threatens to drive away.
“If you’re making $100,000 or $200,000, you’re not going to want to continue to step over bodies,” said Henry English, president and chief executive officer of the Black United Fund of Illinois, a South Shore-based community development group, who has seen gunshot victims lying dead outside his office and on his block at home.
The commercial heart of the neighborhood sits less than three blocks from the Highlands home of James Norris, yet he said he feels he has to “be on guard” when he’s on 71st Street. “I would usually prefer to avoid the area,” he said.
Violence has prompted the South Shore chamber of commerce to discourage businesses from staying open at night and to seek fines -- and even shutter -- stores that tolerate loitering. Merchants struggle with people selling individual cigarettes called “loosies” and illegal drugs.
Two months after Glinsey was fatally shot outside Budget Food & Liquors, the tax preparer next door fled. The Jackson Hewitt branch moved eight blocks north to 71st Street, near a shopping center anchored by franchise drug, electronics, grocery and sandwich outlets.
That wasn’t far enough. On the evening of April 30, three men were shot near the stores. The next morning, a 27-year-old man was killed about three blocks away.
Wertz, the executive director of the South Shore Chamber Inc., has a different challenge than her peers in most suburbs or more stable city neighborhoods.
The South Shore commercial strips she touts are defined mostly by beauty salons, wig shops, liquor stores, check cashing operations and tax preparation outlets. Wertz’s wish list: auto parts, shoes, a pancake house, a Marshalls and a T.J. Maxx.
Wertz, whose organization employs its own crime consultant, is pushing the city to open a police substation on 71st Street, a year and a half after Emanuel closed three district stations to help plug a $636 million deficit left by Daley.
“We need to get rid of the impression that there’s always going to be a gun fight,” Wertz said.
Death, it turns out, is death on business.
Sandy Neal, a fashion designer, would like to open a vintage clothing store in his native South Shore.
“I don’t see a lot of foot traffic,” said Neal, 48. “You don’t see people going out to stroll and stop to have coffee.”
Or get supplies for their mother’s birthday party. More than a year after her son’s killing, Bertha Glinsey can’t quite fathom just how far her neighborhood has fallen.
“To think that you could go to the store and not come back alive,” she said, grimacing as she sat at her dining room table. “You can’t do what normal people do.”
Just down Saginaw Street from the two-story brick home where she and her husband reared seven children, a welcome sign still boasts: “A Great Place to Raise a Family.”