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Hiring 500 police officers in 2013 not enough, aldermen say

Chicago Police Officers march annual St Judes police parade.  File Pho(Brian Jackson)

Chicago Police Officers march in the annual St Judes police parade. File Photo (Brian Jackson)

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MURDERS (to date)

2012: 410

2011: 327


2012: 1,937

2011: 1,777

Source: Chicago Police Department

Video: Watch Emanuel's budget address live

Updated: November 11, 2012 6:25AM

The Chicago Police Department will hire 500 police officers in 2013 and hold two police exams — one for new officers, the other for sergeants, aldermen were told Tuesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to hire 125 officers-per-quarter was not enough to satisfy aldermen convinced Chicago needs at least 1,000 new officers to ease a manpower shortage they contend has hamstrung the city’s ability to stop a 25 percent surge in homicides and a nine percent increase in shootings.

They were not appeased by the argument made by the mayor’s budget team that Chicago already has more police officers-per-capita than any other major city and that it’s the first time since 2006 that the city has hired enough officers to keep pace with retirements for two straight years.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) noted that Emanuel balanced his first budget — and saved $82 million — by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies.

“We have an over-arching gang problem that keeps expanding every time we turn around. The murder rate is going up. Auto theft and bank robberies are going up. Police officers are being reactive. They don’t even have enough time to fill out the paperwork. They need additional help. If you’re only keeping pace with retirements, that’s not additional help,” he said.

Asked where he would find the $100 million needed to hire 1,000 more police officers, Fioretti said, “There’s a move toward privatization and cutting. We’ve got to find innovative ways to pay for the appropriate city services.”

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, said he was pleased to learn during closed-door briefings on the mayor’s 2013 budget that the Police Department will be “hiring to attrition every quarter.”

But, he said, “We need more officers. The men and women out there beating those streets are getting worn out. There is no substitute for having an adequate number of officers.”

Noting that Chicago plans to hold the first police entrance exam since 2010 and the first sergeant’s exam since 2006, Cochran said, “If we’re bringing in rookie officers paid one-third less, we ought to be able to hire one-third more officers” than the rate of attrition.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) quoted Budget Director Alex Holt as saying there is a five percent vacancy rate in the number of beat officers and that the city is hoping to reach the 9,641 beat officer mark with next year’s hiring.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields has accused Emanuel of keeping his hand out of taxpayers’ pockets in 2013 at the expense of public safety.

On the eve of the mayor’s budget address, he said, “If Chicago wants to lose the title ‘homicide capital of the nation’ it’s time to get serious about increasing the number of patrolmen and detectives on the street. We at least need to hire 1,400 officers. That’s at a minimum.”

Asked Tuesday to preview his second budget address, Emanuel said, “There will not be any new taxes. There will not be any new fees. And we’ll make critical investments in our neighborhoods and other areas that will continue to help us improve this city, compete for jobs and [allow] families to raise their children.”

Last week, Emanuel disclosed his decision to hold the line on taxes, fines and fees in his 2013 budget and count on rebounding revenues, continued cost-cutting and dunning deadbeats to erase a revised, $298 million shortfall.

With tax increases off the table, police hiring is expected to be a major point of contention during City Council budget hearings.

Aldermen were also told Tuesday that Emanuel plans to add 911 dispatchers who took a cut last year, re-finance another round of old debt and declare a $25 million surplus in the city’s 159 tax-increment-financing (TIF) districts, with $5 million going to the city.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Chicago would hold its first sergeants exam in seven years in 2013, with thousands of frustrated officers who’ve never had the chance to get promoted expected to take one of the largest sergeants exams held anywhere in the world.

The Chicago Police Department has an authorized strength of 1,180 sergeants, but 104 of those jobs are unfilled.

To qualify for the sergeant’s exam, Chicago Police officers must have completed four years of college, spent 6 1/2 years on the job and have no outstanding debts to the city.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee, has urged Emanuel to impose a “safety and security fee” as high as $5-a-month on homes and businesses to generate the $70 million needed to hire 700 additional police officers.

Cardenas is, so far, the only alderman to step forward with a specific funding idea.

Still not known is how much money, if any, Emanuel will set aside for police and fire pay raises that have yet to be negotiated.

If the raise ultimately awarded — either at the bargaining table or by an arbitrator — is bigger than the money allocated, a supplemental appropriation and, possibly a tax increase, may be needed some time next year.

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