It’s fall in Chicago. That means you can count on these:

  1. The appearance of Halloween City stores in vacant retail spaces around town.
  2. Orkin Pest Control releasing its list of the “rattiest” Cities in America, with Chicago at the top — for the third year running. It’s good to be a rat in Chicago.
  3. The City of Chicago unveiling its budget followed by some city scribe telling us about the city’s ever-increasing staff and evolving strategies for rodent control.

There are a lot of things that can affect the size and activity of rat populations. Construction, population growth, weather, public infrastructure, and dog poop… it’s complicated. And Orkin’s list is not exactly an academic, peer-reviewed study. Getting a handle on the ratty truth would require a detailed dive. But, because the city has touted its investment and innovation in rodent control every year since 2014, it’s worth taking a closer look at how the numbers and the vermin line up.

2014 (source):

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) cheered a 30 percent increase in the number of city rat-abatement crews in the budget. Burnett said new construction in his ward tended to drive the rats out out where they can be seen, adding, “The rats are partying down the street every day.”

2015, (source):

While this budget identifies significant savings, this budget also continues and expands important investments in youth, infrastructure, and services to ensure that Chicago remains a world-class city: . . . Investing in more responsive city services by adding 5 additional rodent baiting crews ensuring all rodent requests are closed in 5 days . . .

2016 (source):

Tucked away in the mayor’s 2017 budget for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation is a 120-employee, $10.2 million Bureau of Rodent Control.

2017 (source):

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Friday proposed spending an additional $1 million to get rid of the disease-ridden vermin.

That budget boost will allow the city to add five crews of workers charged with reducing the number of critters scurrying through Chicago’s streets and alleys, officials said. The boost will bring the number of rat control crews to 30 in 2018, officials said.

Since 2014, the city has more than doubled its rodent control staff, up to 24 laborers in 2017 according to the Department of Streets and Sanitation, and increased its investment in the City’s rodent control by millions of dollars. Despite this, the number of annual complaints have increased, as have the number of areas with confirmed rat populations. Perhaps that’s because the amount of garbage also has increased. In 2018, the city reportedly will increase its rat budget by another $1 million. This year, the city also announced a special effort to replace damaged garbage carts, which you can report here. But, the benefit of this and other increases over the years is difficult to find. A few men, even a few hundred can’t catch, ice, or sterilize all the rats in this big city.

Data: Chicago Data Portal. All duplicates, as noted in the City’s data, were removed. 2017 trends projected based on actual 2016 data from Oct 17 – Dec 31.

Chicago is not the only city throwing money at this problem. New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio sees Emanuel’s $1 million and raises it, to $32 million. Even with that staggering figure, rodentologist Bobby Corrigan says it’s not enough. He estimates that New York’s efforts will reduce the city’s most infested areas by only 70 percent. Corrigan blames the weather and says much, much more money is needed to stop a national ratpocalypse.

With limited funds, there are ways to make rat elimination programs more effective. A study by the National Association of County & City Health Officials and the Centers for Disease Control emphasizes the importance of collaboration, code enforcement, and stable funding as being key factors to a successful program. The report notes that public education is especially important.

So, worried about those rats? Then cover your cans, report problems, and it never hurts to pick up after your dog. Sorry, but you also should hope for a cold winter. Then, maybe next year Orkin will move Chicago to second place and we can enjoy one year of budget hearings with a few less rats. Maybe.

Lead image made with original art by Clarie Jones/Noun Project.