During the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart Donald Trump fielded a question about America’s race relations.
Trump talked law and order, policing tactics and inner city violence. He focused on Chicago, claiming, “In a place like Chicago … almost 4,000 have been killed since Barack Obama became president.”
Violence in Chicago — including a high level of gun violence — has been well-documented throughout the years.
But exactly how many homicides have occurred in Chicago between Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009 and the debate on Sept. 26, 2016?
Using statistics from the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, which track homicides, The Observatory determined 3,691 murders occurred within Chicago city limits during that time frame of seven years and eight months.
Figures for specific years are shown in the chart below.
These numbers come from a variety of sources.
The Chicago Police Department’s 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis reports homicide data for 1991 to 2011, providing us with the number of homicides annually for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Since Obama’s inauguration took place 20 days into 2009, we cross-checked the number of homicides the analysis reported for January 2009 with the Chicago Tribune RedEye homicide tracker’s daily count of homicides for that month.
We used Chicago CBS affiliate’s and Chicago Tribune coverage of Chicago Police Department statistics on the city’s homicide rates to account for the number of homicides that occurred in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Finally, the 2015 and 2016 figures come from the Chicago Tribune’s Crime in Chicagoland homicide tracker, which replaced the RedEye tracker in 2015. Murders occurring after the debate were not included.
Putting the numbers in context
Trump limited his claim to homicides under the Obama administration. When put into context, it is evident that during Obama’s presidency, there has been a mix of highs and lows in a city whose homicide rates have seen an overall decrease since the 1990s.
Yearly average per presidency:
769 — Clinton (1993-2001)
533 — Bush (2001-2009)
461 — Obama (2009-2016)
Sources for numbers:
(1993 – 2011): The Chicago Police Department’s 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis
(2012): CBS report citing Chicago Sun-Times statistics
(2013-2014): Chicago Tribune
(2015 – September 2016): Crime in Chicagoland homicide tracker
According to the Chicago Tribune, 2014 marked a 49-year low in Chicago homicides, during Obama’s sixth year in office. That year, Chicago totalled 407 murders — the lowest since 1965 when just under 400 were killed.
Conversely, this year homicides are occurring at a much faster rate, with 631 murders already tallied on the Chicago Tribune’s Crime in Chicagoland homicide tracker as of Nov. 1.
This puts 2016 on pace to be Chicago’s deadliest year in nearly two decades.
But this is still a far cry from the 900-plus yearly figures of the early 1990s.
According to the Chicago Police Department’s 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis, homicide rates saw a steady decline from the beginning in the third year of Bill Clinton’s first term until he left office at the beginning of 2001.
During Clinton’s time in office, the homicide rate dropped from 855 in 1993 to 633 in 2000.
There also was a decline during the administration of President George W. Bush.
In 2001, the number of homicides was 667. Bush’s last full year in office, 2008, Chicago had 513 homicides.
There was an average of 769 homicides per year between Clinton’s inaugural year and his last full year in office. From 2001 through 2008 — the Bush years — the average dropped to 533 homicides per year.
Trump said, “In a place like Chicago … almost 4,000 have been killed since Barack Obama became president.”
Statistics show 3,691 homicides occurred from Jan. 20, 2009 until Sept. 26, 2016. This figure is 309 homicides short of 4,000.
While not wholly inaccurate, it would be more accurate to say “more than 3,600” or “nearly 3,700” than “almost 4,000.” And while that is a horrific death toll by any measure, the average annual homicide rate in Chicago during Obama’s time in office is actually lower than under the previous two presidents.
We rate Trump’s claim is rated mostly true.
“The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate transcript, annotated,” by Aaron Blake, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/09/26/the-first-trump-clinton-presidential-debate-transcript-annotated/.
“Chicago’s Murder Problem,” by Ford Fessenden and Haeyoun Park, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/18/us/chicago-murder-problem.html?_r=1.
Observatory calculations to account for homicides in relation to Obama inauguration date and date of presidential debate Sept. 26, Lauren Sklba and Maddie Sweitzer.
“2011 Chicago Murder Analysis,” by the Chicago Police Department, http://4abpn833c0nr1zvwp7447f2b.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2011-Murder-Report.pdf .
“Police: Chicago Reports 415 Murders In 2013, Lowest Since 1965,” CBS Chicago, http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/01/01/police-chicago-reports-415-murders-in-2013-lowest-since-1965/.
“Chicago ends 2014 with fewer homicides, but shooting victims up 14 percent,” by Jeremy Gorner, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-crime-year-end-met-20150101-story.html.
“Tracking homicides in Chicago,” RedEye Chicago, http://homicides.redeyechicago.com/date/2009/01/.
“Crime in Chicagoland: Chicago homicides,” by the Chicago Tribune staff, Chicago Tribune, http://crime.chicagotribune.com/chicago/homicides.