The rise in violent crime in Chicago has spilled over, sparking concern among business leaders and leading to internal political struggles among those charged with protecting the city.
“We were in the midst of a post-pandemic downtown recovery and were starting to see buyers coming back, and vacant office space was finally starting to drop and at that point we started to see crime,” said City Alderman Brian Hopkins. “If crime continues to rise, I think you’ll start to see the economic recovery slowing.”
While overall crime is down so far this year compared to the same time a year ago, there has been an increase in homicides, sexual assaults and thefts, including from motor vehicles.
Several downtown developers are struggling to market properties because violence has spread throughout the city, giving it a negative reputation, Hopkins said.
Crime in the city and its potential impact on business, especially downtown, came under the spotlight this week after hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin said the violence could cause him to move the headquarters shareholder of its investment company, Citadel, in New York. The Fortune 500 company would be the largest to leave Chicago.
Crime is a major concern for all stores and merchants, said Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. He said some companies had already left Chicago last year, in part because of the violence.
Although he has not heard any growls from companies considering a move, Jack Lavin, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said executives in the film industry and other companies interested in doing business in Chicago inquired about crime. Members of the House also mentioned that some employees fear leaving the office at night.
As the downtown business community goes, so does the rest of Chicago.
The downtown central business district is critical to city-wide operations with about a third of all city employees working there. It is therefore important to maintain its viability, according to business leaders.
“This is a key economic driver for the city of Chicago and the gateway to the city where tourists come and where businesses plan to locate their headquarters,” Lavin said. “We have to make it safe and people can trust public safety. “
But there are those who believe that the city’s bad reputation hurts downtown stores more than the crime rate itself.
Kiana DiStasi, spokesperson for the Chicago Loop Alliance, which promotes downtown businesses, said negative headlines and public perception are affecting downtown, but it still feels safe and customers have a good experience.
“We really believe that when more people come downtown, it’s safer and less criminal,” she said.
DiStasi highlighted eight consecutive Sundays in which the alliance sponsored a block party during the summer with an average of 67,000 attendees and no crime.
“Yes, people’s perception of downtown crime has an impact on businesses. But we don’t know how endemic crime is, ”she said.
There were 53 homicides in downtown Chicago this year, up from 51 at the same time last year, according to crime statistics.
In 2019, before the nationwide murder spike, only 28 homicides were reported in the region. There were 1,369 thefts in 2021, an increase of 9% over the same period last year, although down from the peaks of recent years.
Lavin said that even though the crime reports are high, some of them can be overestimated.
“The people of the city know this is a problem, but the perception is greater than it is,” Lavin said.
Meanwhile, the increase in crime has sparked conflict between city and state rulers.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx clashed verbally this week, each criticizing the other for a fatal shooting last week that resulted in the release of five suspects without charge.
And some city council members have targeted Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown for overseeing a police force in a city of increasing violence.
“Everyone is pointing fingers and no one is taking responsibility,” said city councilor Raymond Lopez.
A year ago, the mayor created the Our City, Our Safety initiative, a three-year plan to reduce violence by focusing on police reform, expanding and strengthening street awareness, and creating a support network for victims.
She also proposed to increase police funding by $ 200 million in the next fiscal budget.
Brown, in a bid to help quell crime, proposed last month to reassign dozens of officers from community safety teams to enforce anti-gang and narcotics units.
The units will focus on high-level investigations and crack down on straw buyers – that is, people who buy guns for those who can’t.
“We are attacking gangs and we are going to do it according to the Constitution,” Brown said, NBC’s Chicago affiliate WMAQ-TV reported. “We want to make sure that we don’t violate anybody’s rights. But the gangs are out of control in this city. And we are suing them to hold them accountable.
Yet crime and violence continue to hamper Chicago.
Chicago has faced about 2,600 shootings this year, up 10% from the same period last year, according to data from the Chicago Police Department, NBC News reported.
As of Friday, there have been 1,293 car hijackings this year, up from 939 at the same time last year.
“This is a worrying increase in areas of the city that generally haven’t experienced it,” said Hopkins, the city’s alderman. “I think everyone agrees that we have a serious crime problem, and it is getting worse.”
Business leaders say companies want all levels of state government to work together to reduce crime.
Lavin urged Brown and Lightfoot to hire hundreds of qualified officers as soon as possible, which would help bring workers back to the office, conventions back to town, and attract business travelers and tourists.
“It’s not just about the police. It is also the state prosecutor and judges. We all need to work together and collaborate and communicate strategies on how we are going to tackle the increase in violent crime, ”Lavin said.
If the crime rate does not slow down, city officials fear businesses will leak, on top of losing the allure that makes foreigners relocate to the city.
“The perception there is that the streets of Chicago are fundamentally lawless,” Lopez said. “This perception hurts us, not only with our main economic drivers of tourism and conventions, but also with restaurants and shops.”
Politicians also say a heavy political price could be paid during the election season if the city fails to contain the increase in violence.
Crime will be the main issue for voters in the 2023 mayoral race, even if Lightfoot does not run for office, Hopkins said.
“If you have people who are afraid of being victimized, personal safety, when in jeopardy, will overshadow any other political issue you might be concerned about,” Hopkins said.