In the first half of 2013, as the thermometer began to rise, so did the anxiety of those living in the Chicago Police Department's 19th District. The district's neighborhoods—Lake View, Boystown, Wrigleyville, and North Center, plus portions of Uptown and Lincoln Square and the north part of Lincoln Park—are among the most desirable in the city. But residents were increasingly sharing horror stories about robberies, beatings, drug deals, and bloodstains on previously safe sidewalks. "I moved here in 1981, and I have never felt as unsafe as I do now," Lake View resident Michael Smith, 56, an art director at a marketing firm, told Chicago last fall.

In fact, in the months of May, June, and July, one of the police beats within the 19th District—a small area bordered by Belmont Avenue, Addison Street, Halsted Street, and Southport Avenue—notched more robberies than any other beat in Chicago, according to the police's own statistics. The beat also ranked among the 10 worst, citywide, for violent crime. "Does it compare to what's happening on the South and West Sides of the city? No," says Craig Nolden, a 45-year-old marketing manager who lives with his wife and two children in the beat. "But it was out of control."

Last summer, Nolden says, he called 911 four times: to report someone breaking in to his wife's car, a couple brawling in a park, a fight outside his home, and someone dealing drugs nearby. In every case, by the time police arrived, the bad guys had departed. In the case of the drug deal, 20 minutes passed before cops showed up, Nolden says. When he asked them what took so long, the officers said they were answering another call, for an attempted apartment burglary. "I said, 'With all due respect, are we in a take-a-number situation?' And the officer said, 'It's such a colossally bad issue, I can't give you an explanation.' "

But even as 19th District residents remained on high alert for a roving group of thugs who were threatening victims with a hammer, police leaders were assuring them that all was well. In fact, according to reports posted by the Chicago Police Department on its website each week, crime was consistently down nearly 20 percent in the district compared with the same weeks in the previous summer.

Frightened and frustrated residents started packing formerly quiet community policing sessions. "You would go to these meetings with the [police] commander and alderman, and there was a complete denial that anything was happening," Smith says incredulously. "They would tell us it was all our perception and point to statistics. . . . You have no idea how furious that makes people."

By the time 2013 ended, according to the police department's count, the number of "index crimes"—the key crimes that virtually all cities report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation—had dropped 17 percent for the year. "You can say your statistics are down," says Sarah Gottesman, 36, a food-company brand manager who moved to Lake View three years ago, after which one friend got her wallet snatched, another had a bike stolen, and a neighbor's apartment was burglarized. "But that doesn't mean the crime didn't happen."

North Siders aren't the only ones worked up about the disconnect between what Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy have claimed about falling crime and what they believe has actually been happening in their neighborhoods. Carrie Austin, the alderman of the 34th Ward on the Far South Side—which includes Roseland, one of the city's highest-crime neighborhoods told a Sun-Times reporter in January: "Don't tell me about no statistics of McCarthy's. You say, 'Well, statistically, we're down.' That means crap to me when I know that someone else has been shot."

 

Murders grab the headlines. But they make up less than 1 percent of the total number of crimes committed. So when Emanuel and McCarthy talk about the huge drop in crime since they took over in May 2011, they're referring mostly to reductions in the number of break-ins, car thefts, muggings, sexual assaults, and the like—the kinds of crimes much more likely to befall the typical Chicagoan.

"You can have a 100 percent reduction in murders, and as sad as this may sound, it won't have anywhere near the effect [on the overall statistics] of a 25 or 30 percent drop in burglaries," says Jody Weis, Chicago's police chief from 2008 to early 2011. "If you're looking at driving down crime, property crimes are the ones that are going to make a big difference."