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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 73/August 1908/Crimes of Violence in Chicago and in Greater New York



"HUMAN life is the cheapest thing in Chicago," recently declared Judge Cleland. "This city," he asserted, "witnesses a murder for every day in the year." Now 365 homicides a year would mean, for Chicago, that one out of every 5,614 of her citizens is destined to be murdered each year; or, in other words, that 17 in each 100,000 of the population would annually meet death at the hands of a fellow citizen. This would place Chicago on a criminal level with Lexington, Ky., where nearly 39 per cent, of the population are negroes. In Chicago the negro element forms scarcely 2 per cent, of the total inhabitants. As a matter of fact, however, whereas Lexington stands first in the scale of American cities in respect to the ratio of deaths by homicide to total population, Chicago stands about eighth in the list, showing a lower record for homicides than either San Francisco or Los Angeles, as may be seen in the accompanying table.

Table showing the Annual Average of Deaths by and Arrests for Homicide in each 100,000 of Population, in Various Cities of the United States, based on Reports of Health Officers and of Chiefs of Police. (Most of the averages given are for a period of six years.)

City Annual Average
of Deaths by Homicide per 100,000 of Population.
Annual Average
of Arrests for Homicide per 100.000 of Population.
Lexington, Ky. 17.77 40.07
Kansas, Kan. 17.64 18.27
Louisville, Ky. 14.85 17.41
Cincinnati, O.[1] 14.28 6.90
St. Louis, Mo. 14.16 11.30
San Francisco, Cal. 9.25 19.69
Los Angeles, Cal 9.00 4.86
Chicago, Ill. 7.30 6.87
Cleveland, O. 6.12 9.56
Greater New York 4.93 13.23
Indianapolis, Ind. 4.18 4.74
Providence, R. I. 3.59 1.70
Baltimore, Md 3.39 7.74
Philadelphia, Pa. 3.27 4.93
Boston, Mass. 3.13 1.98
St. Paul, Minn. 2.32 2.13
Newark, N. J.[2] 1.50 9.16
Milwaukee, Wis. 1.45 1.77

PSM V73 D132 The annual average ratio of deaths by homicide in chicago 1901-06.png

The annual average ratio of deaths by homicide in Chicago, as given in the table, is, for the six years 1901-06, 7.30 per 100,000 of inhabitants. The minimum for these years was 5.23, in 1901; the maximum was 9.26, in 1905, the ratio for 1906 being 9.17. The maximum for San Francisco was 11.90, in 1902; and for Cleveland, 8.57, in 1906. From these figures it may be seen that the "carnival of crime" in Chicago, in 1906, did not by any means place the Windy City in the lead as a "Scarlet City." While it is true that crimes of violence are increasing in Chicago faster than the growth of population, the augmentation has been gradual, and no greater, relatively, than in Philadelphia. Cincinnati. Cleveland. Louisville, Los Angeles

Annual Number of Deaths by Homicide in Various Cities during Nine Years—1898-1906

1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906
New York 121 137 140 112 127 137 176 165 253
Chicago 77 108 102 92 108 142 130 185 187
St. Louis 78 81 74 109 82 80 82 87 63
Louisville 32 26 23 44 22 29 30 36 48
Philadelphia 22 18 16 28 32 46 40 37 62
Boston 12 15 15 23 31 17 24 14 18
Cleveland 3 4 12 4 32 11 16 24 36
Baltimore 24 5 26 21 15 14 24 17 26
Indianapolis 3 8 5 7 5 9 10 8 10
Providence 9 8 5 5 5 6 12 6 11
Milwaukee 5 4 3 4 4 2 8 ? ?
Los Angeles ? ? ? ? 12 9 11 24 20
Lexington ? ? ? 4 4 6 5 6 6
Newark ? ? ? ? 5 3 5 3 9
St. Paul ? ? 1 10 1 5 6 6 1
San Francisco 37 32 ? ? 43 36 ? ? ?

and many other cities. If the number of homicides, in proportion to population, was much higher in 1905 and in 1906 than in 1901 and 1902, such an increase is by no means unprecedented, nor are such annual variations from the average unusual either in Chicago or elsewhere. Already in 1888, the proportion of murders to the number of inhabitants was almost as "alarming" as in 1905, and the ratio was even then higher than it was to be as late as 1903, being 8.09 in the year 1888, and but 5.88 in 1902. As late as 1904 the ratio was only 6.72. Again, while the ratio was 9.17 in 1906, it was 8.38 as far back as 1893, and 7.24 in 1886, which is just about equal to the average for the six years ending with 1906. Taking a period of thirty-five years, the increase in deaths by homicide has been as follows: For the period 1872-79 (eight years), the annual average ratio was 3.20; for the thirteen years 1880-1892, 5.55; for the fourteen years 1893-1906, 7.19 homicides per one hundred thousand of population. The maximum ratio for any one year of the three periods was, 5.00 in 1873; 8.09 in 1888, and 9.26 in 1906. Of grave crimes in general, the increase of arrests was from an annual average of 243.0 per one hundred thousand of inhabitants for the three years 1901-03, to 269.1 for the three years 1904—06, an augmentation during the latter three years of 26.1 in each 100,000 of the population. This increase consists almost entirely of arrests for assaults with a deadly weapon and for assaults with intent to kill. There has been little or no increase in the proportion of arrests for burglary and robbery.

That the increase in crimes of violence in Chicago is due to the presence of a large foreign-born element of an inferior economic and social status is amply attested by the available statistics. For instance, the police records for 1905 show that whereas the ratio of arrests per 100,000 of population among native whites for murder and murderous assaults was 94.16, among the foreign white population the ratio was 146.65 per one hundred thousand. Among the negroes the ratio was 107.52.

In considering the above statistics, the fact should be borne in mind that the greater frequency of crimes of violence among certain elements of the foreign-born population does not imply an inherent and ineradicable viciousness or criminality among these unfortunate immigrants, but merely a lawlessness due to unfavorable environment and inadequate education, mental and manual. Crime is twin brother to poverty, and both are the children of ignorance and greed.

It may be said, in conclusion, that while crimes of violence have increased in Chicago during the past thirty-five years, the increase has not been so great as has been represented, and that the alarming reports sent out about the "carnival of crime" in Chicago are usually without especial significance, since crimes of violence occur in all great cities sporadically, generally in quick succession. At the end of the year it is found, as a rule, that no unusual increase for the twelve months has taken place, or that even an actual decrease has occurred, as was the case in Chicago during the year 1906.

For the past four or five years the American public has been startled by sensational reports regarding "the terrible increase of crime in New York City." The year 1906 brought the usual quota of comment and criticism. More recently the apparently unprovoked killing of a policeman by an Italian assassin has focused attention upon the fact that at least 1,600 of the foreign-born element of the great metropolis have been permitted to go about the streets armed with a deadly weapon. This evil practise is tolerated more or less in nearly all our great cities, and with the same disastrous results. New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and other rapidly growing cities, nearly all show an increase in the proportion of crimes of violence commensurate with the changing character of their immigrant population.[3] But, contrary to popular opinion, the increase of homicide in New York City has been very slight during the past decade, the year 1906 excepted. This agrees with the fact that the racial composition of the population has not materially changed during the five or six years preceding 1905. Taking a longer period, however, we find quite an increase in the number of crimes of violence, especially assaults with a deadly weapon, and, apparently, murder and attempts thereat. In 1880, when less than ten per cent, of New York's alien population was drawn from Russia and southern Europe, with less than three per cent, from Italy, the number of arrests for the various forms (or degrees) of homicide was less than four in each one hundred thousand of the population. In 1890, when over 30 per cent, of immigrants were from Russia or southern Europe, there were nearly seven such arrests in an equal number of residents. In 1900, the percentage of aliens of this socially and economically inferior type had reached nearly seven tenths of the total volume of immigration, while the ratio of arrests on the charge of killing a fellow-man had increased to 13 per one hundred thousand of inhabitants. In 1906, the ratio rose to 21.51 per one hundred thousand of population. Meanwhile, in other large cities of the Empire State, such as Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, where the foreign-born population was derived almost entirely from northern Europe, no increase in the proportion of homicides to total population has been noted. In Syracuse there have been but six cases of homicide under jurisdiction of the police department in a period of fourteen years.

Annual Number, and Proportion per One Hundred Thousand of the Population, of Deaths by Homicide; and Annual Number of Arrests made for Murder, Manslaughter, Homicide and Infanticide, during the Nine Years 1898-1906

1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906
Arrests for murder, manslaughter, homicide and infanticide. 347 406 451 429 517 582 630 737 885
Deaths by homicide. 121 137 140 112 127 137 176 165 253
Deaths by homicide per 100,000 of population. 3.8 4.12 4.07 3.15 3.46 3.62 4.52 4.12 6.15
For the Six Years 1898-1903 1904-06
Annual average ratio per 100,000 of population. 3.70 4.93

It is worthy of note that while the number of homicides in New York City has greatly increased during the past thirty-six years, there has been no increase, to speak of, in the ratio of convicts to total population, held in the state prisons for murder and manslaughter. In 1880, there were 5.50 in each one hundred thousand of the population held for murder or manslaughter; in 1890, 7.36; in 1906, 5.78 per one hundred thousand of population. This may be partly due to the fact that the police force of New York City, where about one third of the homicides of the whole state are committed, has grown steadily smaller relative to the growth of population. Coroner Peter B. Acritelli declares that "only one in ten murders and assaults is followed by arrests." Moreover, he states that, "Even when an arrest has been made, when the case comes to trial the Italian witnesses either mysteriously lose their memories or disappear until the trial is over." The Italian of southern Italy thinks there is something unmanly in an appeal to the law, and that it is the duty and privilege of every man to right his own wrongs.

While the police court records show an increase in the number of arrests for the various forms of homicide from 347 in 1898, to 517 in 1902, and to 885 in 1906, these figures do not represent a proportionate increase in the number of deaths by homicide, as may be seen by the accompanying table.

From the foregoing figures it may be seen that the ratio of deaths by homicide to total population was the same in 1905 (4.12) as it was six years earlier, in 1899; and that whereas the annual average ratio for the six years 1898-1903 was 3.70 per one hundred thousand of inhabitants, the average annual ratio for the three years 1904-06 was 4.93. Such an increase is hardly sensational. In the matter of the more serious crimes in general, such as robbery, burglary, arson, felonious assault and the various forms of homicide, taken altogether, the increase was from 120.9 per one hundred thousand of population, to 166.3 (in 1905); an increase of 45.4 in each 100,000 of inhabitants. The greatest increase to be noted is in the number of arrests for felonious assault.

That a large share of the more grave forms of criminality is perpetrated by certain elements of New York's alien population is easily demonstrated. Thus, of the 4,124 aliens held for grave crime in the penal institutions of the United States in 1904, one fourth were detained in the prisons of the empire state. It is also a significant fact that of the ninety-one persons who met death at the hands of a fellowman in the borough of Manhattan, in 1905, thirty-eight only were born in this county, and the parents of twenty of these were foreign born. Of the 71 foreigners who were killed, twenty, or 28 per cent., were Italians, though eleven other nationalities were represented. Seven of the deceased were Chinamen (who are, in this country, more murderous in proportion to their numbers than the Italians); six of the deceased were Russians, five were natives of Ireland, four were Germans. No other nationality was represented by more than two victims. It is thus apparent how few of those murdered were native Americans of native-born parents. It is, perhaps, not too much to say that the lives of the better classes of citizens in New York City are as safe now as in previous decades, most of the deaths by homicide being confined to the immigrant quarters, the result of quarrels, of family or tong feuds, rather than of cold-blooded murder, for gain. Coroner Peter B. Acritelli states that "Two thirds of the list of homicides in the Tombs are men of Italian birth." And doubtless nine tenths of these are from Sicily, Sardinia or southern Italy, since the natives of northern Italy are not given to crimes of violence; human life being safer in Venice or Florence than in Boston or Philadelphia; more secure in Milan, Turin or Genoa than in Cleveland, Chicago or San Francisco.

The accompanying table shows the comparative security of human life in various cities, and reveals the fact that the life of the average citizen is as safe in New York as in most urban communities.


Table showing the Average Annual Ratio of Deaths by Homicide per 100,000 of Population in Various Cities, based upon Official Reports

City Annual Average
of Homicides per
100,000 Popu-
Mexico, Mex. 70.72 1899
Girgenti, Sicily 40.48 1897-1899
Sassari, Sardinia 38.64 1897-1899
Lima, Peru 36.60 1899-1900
La Paz, Bolivia 33.71 1902
Naples, Italy 29.23 1879-1899
Lexington, Ky. 17.77 1901-1905
Kansas, Kan. 17.64 1904-1905
Louisville, Ky. 14.85 1901-1905
St. Louis, Mo. 14.16 1900-1904
Rome, Italy 13.81 1897-1899
San Francisco, Cal. 9.00 1899-1903
Chicago, Ill. 7.03 1893-1904
Turin, Italy 6.56 1897-1899
Budapest, Hungary 6.13 1895-1901
Cleveland, O. 6.12 1904-1906
Genoa, Italy 5.83 1897-1899
New York, N. Y. 4.93 1904-1906
Providence, R. I. 3.59 1900-1904
Baltimore, Md. 3.39 1901-1905
Milan, Italy 3.20 1897-1899
Philadelphia, Pa. 3.27 1904-1906
Boston, Mass. 3.13 1904-1906
Venice, Italy 2.82 1897-1899
Newark, N. J. 1.50 1902-1904
Milwaukee, Wis. 1.45 1898-1904

In regard to the reputed increase of highway robbery in Greater New York, the police records would seem to show that no such increase has taken place. In comparing the number of crimes annually committed in New York City, it should be borne in mind that the population increases at the rate of nearly 113,000 yearly. As to the increase of highway robbery, the police court records merely show that the number of such crimes is far greater in some years than in others. This is true of all our great cities. We may note, for example, that there were thirteen times more arrests made in Baltimore for highway robbery in 1903 than in 1901; in Newark, there were fifteen times more arrests for this offense in 1902 than in 1900, though the average for a period of six years shows only a slight increase in any of our cities, years of frequent arrests on this charge alternating with few, or, as in Baltimore, in some years, none at all on this charge. The number of such arrests in New York in 1899 was nine, in 1901, thirty-four, followed in 1903 by nine only. As a matter of fact, New York is one of the few cities in the union which show an actual decrease in the number of arrests for highway robbery. The official records show that whereas the annual average of arrests on this charge for the six years 18981903 was 19.3, for the three years 1904-06 the average was 16.7. Meanwhile, the population of New York had increased by about one million inhabitants. Arrests on the charge of arson show a very material increase, from an annual average of 26.0 for the six years 1898-1903, to 35.2 for the three years 1904-06. Arrests on the charge of felonious assault increased from 1,480 in 1898, to 3,375 in 1906. A proportionate increase in crimes of violence has occurred in nearly all cities of the union whose rapid growth is largely due to immigration from southern Europe and Italy. On the whole, the increase has been greater in Philadelphia than in New York. Boston and St. Louis are the only large cities that show an actual decrease in the number of deaths by homicide.

The chief encouragement to acts of violence in all the cities which show an increase of felonious assaults and homicides is a deplorably inadequate police force. Despite the fact that the growth of most of our cities is due to the immigration of a socially inferior type of citizenship, the strength of the police force is, in proportion to population and extent of ground to be patrolled, becoming smaller each year. If crimes of violence are far less frequent in London, Paris and Berlin, it is also true that the police and detective forces of these cities are, relative to population, much larger. And what is more important still, those who are held responsible for efficiency and discipline are free from political interference and the domination of office-holders.

  1. As the Census estimate of population is too low, the ratio of deaths by homicide is proportionately too high.
  2. Probably incomplete returns on number of deaths by homicide.
  3. The extent of this change was partially traced by the present writer in an article on "The Effects of Immigration on Homicide in American Cities," Popular Science Monthly, August, 1906.