Chicago is in the midst of its sharpest spike in robberies in at least 20 years, according to a WBEZ analysis of city crime data. Robbery totals in the city have increased faster since July 1 this year than they have during any similar span in the past two decades, largely due to the soaring numbers of armed robberies, the analysis shows.
1. The current spike in robberies started in July.
This year through Nov. 26, there were more than 8,700 robberies citywide. That’s the highest yearly total, through that date, since 2017.
But what’s notable is the surge from July 1 through Nov. 26: Nearly 4,900 robberies were committed in Chicago, an increase of more than 55% when compared to the total for the previous five months. That’s the highest increase in robberies between consecutive five-month periods since at least 2001, the earliest year for which crime data is available on the city’s online data portal.
The WBEZ analysis includes robberies and attempted robberies but excludes carjackings and attempted carjackings. Carjackings peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic but have rescinded the past couple of years. WBEZ excluded carjackings to isolate trends occurring with other forms of robbery, like armed robberies.
One indicator of the intensity of the trend is the total daily counts. From July 1 to Nov. 26. citywide daily robbery totals surpassed 45 recorded crimes 20 times, roughly once a week. During a six-day span in late September, the city topped 45 daily robberies four times. During an eight-day stretch in late October — including three straight days from Friday, Oct. 27 to Sunday, Oct. 29 — the 45 mark was exceeded five times. More recently, the city surpassed 45 robberies in a day twice during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
2. Armed robberies, sometimes in concentrated sprees, led the way.
Nearly 3,600 armed robberies were reported between July 1 and Nov. 26 this year, a 75% increase when compared to the number reported during the previous five months. All other robberies combined increased by a comparatively low 18%; these robberies include strong arm robberies, where no weapon is used, and aggravated robberies, where no weapon is viewed but an offender implies they have a weapon.
In November, Chicago Police issued at least 15 community alerts warning residents about rashes of robberies occurring across the city. In many of the alerts, police indicated that groups of offenders — sometimes identified by physical characteristics, wearing masks or by the descriptions and license plates of the cars they were driving — were engaged in mini-sprees of multiple robberies at various locations within a span of a few hours.
The armed offenders would drive up to victims, who were on foot or in their own vehicles, jump out of a car and demand money or property, according to several alerts. On Thanksgiving morning, Chicago Police warned Southwest Side residents about a blitz of 12 robberies committed in about one hour. In all, the robberies spanned five community areas, with the first three occurring in the Lower West Side community in rapid succession at 7:20 a.m., 7:25 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., according to the alert.
The WBEZ analysis shows that such robbery blitzes increased dramatically during the city’s five-month surge. From July 1 through Nov. 26, sprees — where three or more robberies were committed within the same hour of the day in the same community area — happened 102 times, or nearly five times a week. That total represents an 89% increase from the previous five-month period from February through June, which saw just 54 instances.
While robberies overall are spread out across dozens of community areas in the city, these blitzes were far more concentrated. Since February, more than half — 81 of 156 — have occurred in just five communities: Humboldt Park, West Town, South Lawndale, Lower West Side and Logan Square.
3. The number of total robberies in Chicago is actually only at a six-year peak.
Through Nov. 26, there have been more than 8,700 robberies citywide. That’s the highest yearly total, through that date, since 2017. However, when you extend the timeline, there have been fewer robberies this year than in years past. Citywide robbery totals surpassed 10,000 each year from 2001 to 2013 and also in 2016 and 2017.
4. Austin, Humboldt Park and West Town had the most robberies during the citywide five-month spike.
Some areas, where robbery figures are usually low, have seen dramatic percentage increases. In 19 community areas, the robbery total doubled or more than doubled this year when comparing the figure for July 1 through Nov. 26 with the figure for the previous five months. Although scattered throughout the city, most were located on the city’s Northwest and Southwest sides.
Pullman and Bridgeport are among the communities with usually moderate robbery figures witnessing tremendous percentage increases since July. There was just one robbery reported in Pullman between February and June — compared to 11 reported since July. In Bridgeport, robberies jumped from seven to 42 between those time periods.
5. Other communities that have long struggled with robberies have seen things get even worse.
Humboldt Park, West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park had the highest robbery rates in the city during the July-to-November surge — near or above 50 robberies for every 10,000 residents. That’s essentially one robbery for each 200 residents in each of those communities during that five-month period. Percentage-wise, the robbery increases in some South and West side communities have been smaller than some other communities during the citywide July-to-November surge. But the sheer volume of robberies and the per capita robbery rates in some South and West side communities remain among the highest in the city.
Logan Square, the Lower West Side and Belmont Cragin stand out as areas that were struggling with robberies before the recent five-month surge and saw things get even worse from July through November. Comparing then and now, Logan Square ranked 13th from February through June and rose to 5th from July through November; the Lower West Side went from 21st to 6th; and Belmont Cragin from 25th to 8th.
Who got hit, and what do police advise?
Chicago’s violence reduction dashboard shows that the highest numbers of robbery victims this year have been adults in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Collectively, they accounted for more than 63% of robbery victims between Jan. 1 and Nov. 26 this year. More than two-thirds of the victims were men.
Among robbery victims during that span, at least 37% were Latino, 35% were Black, 16% were white and 5% were Asian or Pacific Islander. The race and ethnicity was unknown for 7% of the victims, according to the city’s dashboard.
The highest numbers of robberies occurred during the evening and early morning hours between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. During the recent spike, some of the highest percentage increases have occurred among robberies committed between 12 a.m. and 1:59 a.m., between 3 a.m. and 5:59 a.m., and between 9 p.m. and 9:59 p.m.
But there’s also been a noticeable jump in robberies during the lunch hour: The combined total of robberies committed between 12 p.m. and 12:59 p.m. was 69% higher from July 1 through Nov. 26 than it was from February through June. The surge has also been marked by a dramatic increase of robberies committed on Sundays.
To avoid robberies, police offer a number of safety tips and advise residents to be aware of their surroundings, free themselves from distractions and report suspicious activity. Here are some other tips from police:
If confronted by an offender, remain calm, do not resist during a robbery and do not pursue a fleeing assailant;
Dial 911 immediately and provide a detailed description of the offenders, including any vehicle description and license plate information;
Request contact information from any witnesses who approach to offer assistance.
Alden Loury is the senior editor of WBEZ’s data journalism team. Follow him @AldenLoury.