It’s no secret that crime in Chicago has reached levels not seen in decades. Crime statistics released by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for October 2021 show significant increases in incidents of serious crime compared to the same time in 2020, along with double-digit declines in arrest numbers. A local news source notes that last year, Chicago reported more homicides than any other city in the United States. A further worrying new development in the Windy City is “flash mob robbery crews” – two or three carloads of people traveling to commit “quick bursts” of robberies and other crimes while roving city streets, apparently “motivated by the thrill of scaring and hurting people.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Chicago Alderman Michele Smith (D-43) is promoting “WhistleSTOP,” a program dating back to the 1970s. The rules of this crime-fighting approach, according to Smith, are first, to get a loud whistle, preferably the kind used in sports or camping. “If you find yourself in a suspicious situation or witness a crime, blow your whistle. If you hear a whistle, call the police, then move towards the source while blowing your own whistle.” Do not blow your whistle if you believe doing so would put you in danger, “particularly from an armed criminal.” Victims of crime are urged to cooperate and not resist, and (Smith says with a laugh) “certainly do not blow your whistle at someone who has a gun pointed at your head.” Using whistles “allows people to come to the victim’s aid, forces the offender to flee, and helps the police pinpoint the location of the crime,” Smith claims.
It strains credulity to expect this will put a dent in crime or discourage Chicago’s brazen criminals (here, here, here and here, for instance).
A criminal certainly has no reason to fear harm from a whistle, and simply shouting for help would be at least as effective (and possibly less ambiguous). The rules themselves foreclose whistling where there’s an armed perpetrator or other potential danger to the person, or by a victim of a crime in progress. The crime-busting aspect of Smith’s plan also appears to rest on police officers being on hand to respond when summoned, a shaky assumption at best. One source indicates that Chicago’s police force lost almost 900 officers to retirements, transfers and resignations last year; another 400 to 500 officers are due to leave this month. Immediate staffing levels have been further reduced by COVID, with thousands of officers now out on medical leave.
The futility of Smith’s program is arguably irrelevant, anyways. Criminals who do find themselves “whistlestopped” into an apprehension and arrest are likely to be back on the street in short order, even when charged with violent crimes. Cook County’s chief judge recently turned down Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot’s request for an immediate moratorium on releasing certain offenders on pre-trial electronic monitoring. Lightfoot had asked that offenders facing charges of “murder, attempted murder, aggravated gun possession, felons in possession, sex crimes, illegal gun possession, vehicular carjacking, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping or other crimes of violence” not be released on electronic monitoring while awaiting trial, citing the “cumulative effect of having almost 2,300 violent, dangerous offenders” (including 90 murder suspects) back in the community.
CWBChicago, a local news outlet, has highlighted a few instances of this “cumulative effect,” as in the case of a seven-time convicted felon released on electronic monitoring after multiple serious felony charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, who later allegedly set his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire while she and five children were inside because he’d threatened to kill her.
Advocating quaint “crime prevention” strategies that don’t prevent crime is completely in line with a “whistle past the graveyard” approach to public safety, one that also expects “defunded” police to continue to enforce laws that will not be prosecuted and encourages “no bail” district attorneys to downgrade or drop charges against violent or serious repeat offenders.
Manhattan’s new District Attorney Alvin Bragg, for instance, had instructed staff not to prosecute certain crimes at all, to use a “presumption of pre-trial non-incarceration for every case” except as listed, and not “seek a carceral [prison] sentence” other than for the handful of serious offenses specified in his memo. A career criminal arrested last year on several felony burglary charges involving businesses in Brooklyn and Manhattan was already delighted that existing bail reforms meant he was released as not eligible for cash bail; undoubtedly, he will be even more elated with this latest progressive approach to prosecution and punishment.
Alderman Michele Smith, of course, is free to hand out whistles so her constituents can blow criminals away. For our part, we’d like to recommend an alternative quaint and old-timey method for protecting oneself and deterring criminals, and suggest that Chicago’s law abiding residents join the millions of Americans who last year became first-time gun owners or new concealed carry permittees.