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Police union erects billboards to give NATO leaders glimpse of hiring flap

 exterior view  FOP sign along Kennedy Expressway threads keep Chicago Safe Hire More Police Officers.  I Scott

exterior view of a FOP sign along the Kennedy Expressway that reads keep Chicago Safe Hire More Police Officers. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 29, 2012 9:49AM

World leaders arriving in Chicago for the NATO Summit will be treated to a local controversy during their motorcade rides downtown, thanks to an advertising campaign bankrolled by the police union and timed to embarrass Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Thursday, the Fraternal Order of Police paid to put up giant red billboards on the Kennedy, Dan Ryan and Stevenson expressways that state, “Keep Chicago Safe. Hire More Police Officers.”

Similar ads are also going up on 54 CTA buses, fifteen rapid transit stations and on six digital screens across the city.

It’s not the first time that the FOP has tried to embarrass a mayor when the world spotlight was shining brightly on Chicago.

In 2010, the FOP staged a raucous protest outside City Hall timed to embarrass then-Mayor Richard M. Daley as the site selection committee for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games was arriving in Chicago for the final time. The Summer Games were subsequently awarded to Rio de Janeiro after Chicago’s embarrassing first-round flame-out.

FOP President Mike Shields was asked Thursday whether the month-long ad campaign was similarly timed to embarrass Emanuel.

“This is an attempt to reach the largest market of Chicagoans at a critical time before a violent summer begins. If having 20 people shot per weekend doesn’t embarrass the mayor, then nor should billboards demanding more manpower,” Shields said.

Emanuel has been under fire for a 52 percent surge in homicide rates.

He campaigned on a promise to add 1,000 police officers not now on the street, 250 of them newly-hired with funds generated by tax-increment-financing (TIF) districts.

Instead, he has reassigned 1,019 police officers to beat patrol, half of them already on the street in now-disbanded specialized units. The mayor’s first budget was balanced, in part, by eliminating 1,400 police vacancies. That ended a budgetary sleight-of-hand that Daley repeatedly used to balance the books.

As of March 1, Chicago had 9,289 patrol officers and 956 detectives. But, those numbers include nearly 1,400 officers on medical leave and light duty thanks, in part, to a policy that allows officers to take as many as 365 sick days every two years.

“I don’t want the public to get sidetracked on what the real issue is with public safety in Chicago. It’s manpower. Their own safety and our own safety depends on how many officers are truly on the street. We are down well over 2,000 officers over a period of four or five years,” Shields said.

“Eliminating 1,400 positions with the stroke of a pen did more to harm to the city than any other move the mayor has made. We are desperately short of police officers. It impacts all aspects of life, no matter what neighborhood you live in, how old you or what race you are.”

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said he had not seen the signs, but he dismissed the FOP’s conclusion.

“Back in 1991 to 1995, the murder rate in this city was twice what it is today and we had the same number of police officers,” McCarthy said at an unrelated news conference. “The issue of the number of officers and the amount of crime is not a zero sum game. It doesn’t mean you have this many officers, you get his much crime reduction—it’s what you do with those officers. ... It’s not how many cops you have, it’s how many you are using.”

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