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Will city hire new officers next year? Police give mixed message

Mayor Rahmn Emanuel Chicago Police Dept. Supt. Garry McCarthy announced redeployment additional Chicago police officers communities across Chicago Thursday October

Mayor Rahmn Emanuel and Chicago Police Dept. Supt. Garry McCarthy announced the redeployment of additional Chicago police officers to communities across Chicago Thursday, October 6, 2011. Emanuel greeted officers upon arrival. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:46AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed Thursday to have delivered on his campaign promise to put 1,000 more police officers on the street amid confusion about new police hiring.

After joining Emanuel in announcing the redeployment of 138 more officers, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the city would hire more police officers next year for the first time since September 2010. It was an apparent about-face for McCarthy, who said last week that it would be “unconscionable” to hire more officers until he finished retooling the Chicago Police Department and maximizing the performance of the officers he already has.

“We are going to be hiring more. We’re putting that into the budget. The issue is, how many we can hire and when we can do it,” McCarthy said, refusing to reveal specifics.

Hours later, Police Department spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton insisted that McCarthy had misunderstood the question when he was asked, “Is it out of the question to hire more [officers], or is it just not necessary?”

Hamilton said he was referring only to the previously announced class of 50 new recruits expected to begin their six months of training later this month before being permanently assigned to patrol CTA buses and trains.

Those officers are being paid for with CTA funds. They’re not part of the city budget.

Is Hamilton saying no police officers will be hired in 2012?

“I’m not saying that,” she said. “What I’m saying is, he will not ask to hire a single officer until he feels the department is running as efficiently as possible, and he’s getting the most he can out of every officer.”

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to solve a severe manpower shortage by adding 1,000 officers not now on the street, 250 of them newly hired with funds generated by tax-increment financing districts.

Asked Thursday whether he intends to hire more officers, the mayor said only that he was “aware of what I said” during the campaign.

A two-year hiring slowdown has left the Chicago Police Department more than 2,300 officers a day short of authorized strength, including vacancies and officers on medical leave and limited duty.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s final budget called for hiring 200 additional officers — nowhere near enough to keep pace with attrition — but the officers were never hired.

Even without any new hires, Emanuel said Thursday he had delivered on his campaign promise.

The 138 police officers that put the mayor over the top will be made available by hiring civilian detention aides to replace sworn officers and by closing police lockups in four police districts: Shakespeare, Albany Park, Town Hall and Rogers Park.

The civilian detention aides will be hired in mid-November at a cost of $4.4 million. The union representing 72 laid-off Loop traffic control aides will get first dibs on those jobs under a settlement with their union, SEIU Local 73.

Emanuel got mildly annoyed after being reminded that more than half of the 1,019 additional street officers he claims had already been on the street — but assigned to specialized units.

“I’m only 132 days into a four-year term. But 1,019 officers have been applied from where they were before to the street,” he told a news conference at the Chicago Lawn District, where crime is down 25 percent.

“There’s only one question that matters to me: It’s the question that matters to people in their neighborhood, at their kitchen table and when their kids are at school: ‘Is my community seeing the type of safety I need?’ ”

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields argued that the shift from specialized units to beat patrol has led to a reduction in pro-active policing.

“All they’re doing is answering 911 calls and doing a few traffic stops,” he said. “If I was a drug dealer, I would be doing cartwheels with this new crime strategy knowing there’s less of a chance I’m going to be stopped.”

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