September 23, 2014
Despite promises of staffing increases, the Chicago Police Department has fewer beat officers in patrol districts across the city than before Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of city data has found.
Days after he was sworn into office last year, Emanuel announced the start of what he described as a major shift in how the police department assigns officers across the city. He promised to fulfill a campaign pledge by assigning 1,000 more cops to high-crime areas without reducing the police presence in other parts of the city.
“We cannot beat crime without more officers on the beat,” the mayor said then.
That was May 2011.
But, as of Oct. 15, a total of 6,638 rank-and-file officers were assigned to police beats citywide, down from 6,746 beat cops at the start of 2011, according to the data obtained by the Sun-Times.
While nine districts now have more officers than they did, most districts have fewer beat cops than before Emanuel and his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, reassigned hundreds of officers, the records show.
The reason is simple: For every newly hired officer assigned to a beat during the past two years, six other sworn members of the department have retired.
And because about 1,200 retirements have sharply depleted the payroll, rank-and-file police staffing even in some high-crime areas where new officers were added last year is again declining, the Sun-Times found.
Meanwhile, lower-crime districts that didn’t benefit from Emanuel and McCarthy’s redeployment strategy have seen staffing levels continue to fall steadily due to attrition.
“Since Day 1, they’ve just been playing with the numbers,” said Mike Shields, president of the police officers’ union, which has called for an increase in hiring to offset the historic wave of retirements.
McCarthy promised last week that about 450 police academy recruits soon will boost the force again in higher-crime areas as well as less-violent districts where staffing has dropped, too. The department is budgeted to add another 500 officers in 2013, just to keep up with the expected pace of fresh retirements next year.
“I think we have a handle on it,” McCarthy told the Sun-Times. “I’m satisfied with the number of officers that we have . . . We’re going to keep the numbers in those busy places up, because we have to. It’s critical to what we do.”
McCarthy said he began signing off personally on every re-assignment of police officers about three months ago. He did so, he says, “to ensure that I have the staffing levels that I want in the places where I want them.”
The thinning of the beat-cop ranks coincided with a big increase in the number of murders citywide, a rise that attracted attention across the nation.
Though McCarthy points to an overall drop in crimes, that’s largely due to declining numbers of burglaries and auto thefts. As of Wednesday, murders were up 16 percent, and “shooting incidents” had risen 11 percent in the past year, according to McCarthy.
By venturing into the politically sensitive topic of police deployment, Emanuel and McCarthy took on a challenge that many former mayors and top cops had shied from.
But the new policy didn’t satisfy many who have been calling for a dramatic shift in police resources to the most violent districts. Nor did it please defenders of the old order in relatively peaceful neighborhoods.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley added cops when the economy was strong. By 2008, with the city’s budget problems becoming more severe, Daley had to renege on his promises to keep growing the force, and the police academy stopped training cadets.
Daley’s last police superintendent, Jody Weis, drafted a plan to re-allocate officers. The proposal drew heavily on a consultant’s analysis of the time officers spent responding to 911 calls. Weis concluded that some districts were far overstaffed, while other areas needed dozens more cops to deal with the workload.
Weis’ idea was shelved in the final months of the Daley administration, and McCarthy said he takes a completely different approach to the problem.
“We’re deploying based on violent crime and overall crime,” McCarthy says.
Soon after Emanuel was sworn into office in May 2011, an administrative order from the superintendent’s office transferred 587 officers from two specialized units whose officers had been sent out across the city, targeting areas grappling with flare-ups in crime. More than 530 of the reassigned cops were rank-and-file police officers. As promised, city records show, the vast majority of those cops were refocused on beats in eight areas: the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th and 15th districts.
By the fall of 2011, the number of beat officers in districts across Chicago had swelled to more than 7,000.
The 6th District, on the South Side, and the 4th District, which covers the city’s southeast corner, experienced net gains of more than 50 beat officers apiece between the start of 2011 and September 2011.
In October 2011, Emanuel declared that he had fulfilled his campaign promises by putting more than 1,000 officers on the street.
Those initial gains didn’t last long. Every police district but one saw its beat-cop staffing dip in the next 13 months, between September 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012.
The 15th District, which includes the Austin neighborhood, was among the areas that gained at first from Emanuel’s redeployment plans. After having 280 officers at the start of the 2011, the West Side district enjoyed a jump to 296 beat cops by September 2011. Now, it’s back down to 270 officers.
In the 8th District, which takes in a vast swath of the Southwest Side around Midway Airport, the first nine months of 2011 brought a net increase of 34 beat cops. The past year has seen an erosion of most of those gains, with a net loss of 19 beat officers between September 2011 and October 2012.
Some areas that now have more cops, including the Englewood neighborhood’s 7th District, have seen declines in murders. But other areas that have received the most redeployed officers — including the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th Districts — registered more homicides as well as shootings than last year.
“It appears to have worked in Englewood,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who is chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus. “We need the same level of attention to all the hard-hit areas.”
To force the city to more dramatically shift resources to the most violence-prone districts, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and a community group from the Austin neighborhood filed a lawsuit in Cook County’s courts against the Emanuel administration last year. At a court hearing in July, a city lawyer told Judge Neil H. Cohen the suit was “well-intentioned and noble” but added that City Hall believed it’s not the judiciary’s place to dive into a “terribly complicated, life-and-death problem” and tell the Emanuel administration how to allocate officers.
“With all due respect to your honor and your branch of government, it’s an elected-official’s thing,” attorney Andrew Mine told Cohen.
Cohen suggested to ACLU lawyer Harvey Grossman that voters have the means to respond if they don’t approve of the way elected officials deploy the police. “If the citizens don’t like it, the relief is to throw the bastards out,” Cohen said, according to a court transcript.
At the end of the arguments, Cohen acknowledged community activists from the West Side who were in the courtroom: “Thank you, folks from Austin, if that is where you’re from. I appreciate it. Good to see.”
Two months later, Cohen granted the city’s motion and threw the case out. He echoed the city’s arguments, telling the plaintiffs that their “road to relief runs through the ballot box, not the bench.”
The ACLU and the activists from Austin have appealed. Grossman, the legal director for the ACLU here, argues that the ratio of officers to serious crimes and high-priority 911 calls varies tremendously between police districts.
“Any way you look at it, we still have inequity in the way officers are deployed,” he said.
Serethea Reid, one of the Austin activists suing the city, said her neighborhood deserves more officers, even if they come at the expense of districts “where it’s pretty calm.”
“They should put the police where there’s a crisis, where you’re more likely to get killed or shot,” Reid said. “It shouldn’t be based on geography or political power.”
In less-violent parts of the city — some of which have seen a rise in crime this year — some aldermen say they also are concerned about decreases in police staffing. Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said McCarthy recently told him and other aldermen that the merger this month of the 12th and 13th Districts wouldn’t cost those areas any officers. Yet each of those two districts lost dozens of officers in the past year, police records show.
“McCarthy says we’re not losing in the merger, but we lost before due to attrition, and we will lose in the future as more guys retire,” Waguespack said.
The 18th District, on the Near North Side, had the biggest net loss of beat cops of any area in the city in the past year. Twenty-six sworn personnel who worked in the district have retired since Emanuel took office, records show.
The 18th District has recorded increases this year in murders, shootings, rapes, burglaries and felony thefts. Still, the police say crime overall there has fallen by 2 percent, due mostly to a drop in the number of auto thefts and robberies.
“I don’t know how [McCarthy] can go on TV and say crime is down,” Waguespack said. “People here aren’t buying it.”
After a huge increase in murders and shootings in the first few months of this year, the homicide rate for the second half of 2012 tailed off and was at the level seen over the same period in 2011, McCarthy said. He credited a new anti-gang strategy introduced in the spring and also noted he now has personally appointed 20 of 22 district commanders.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said the lack of officers is contributing to the uptick in the most-violent crimes. He said he voted against Emanuel’s budget for 2013 because it didn’t allocate enough money to hire more new police officers.
“Unfortunately, we have people in the mayor’s office and in the City Council who don’t want to deal with the real issues,” Fioretti said. “We’re losing so many officers. That appears to me to be the real issue.”
Contributing: Art Golab, Hunter Clauss