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Police union blasts proposal to cut $190 million from force

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will lead first two public town hall discussions Chicago's 2012 budget. August 29 2011 I  Scott

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will lead the first of two public town hall discussions on Chicago's 2012 budget. August 29, 2011 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 4, 2011 7:30PM

The head of Chicago’s police union on Wednesday blasted City Hall’s proposal to slash $190 million from the police department’s budget, saying it’s based on phony “Enron-style” accounting.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would target “central office” positions to cut the police department’s $1.3 billion budget. He refused to say whether he would also eliminate about 1,400 police vacancies in the department’s budgeted strength of about 13,500 officers. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has said that would achieve about $93 million in savings.

Mike Shields, president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, questioned whether cutting vacancies would save any money.

“How does ‘eliminating vacancies’ save $93 million when zero dollars were being spent on the vacant spots in the first place?” he asked. “That’s some real Enron-style accounting.”

Shields said the union has hired a consultant to gather officers’ ideas about cutting waste. The consultant will produce a report in about two weeks and the union will present its budget-cutting ideas to the city, he said.

The union supports eliminating some management positions, Shields said.

Asked about the possibility of layoffs, Shields said under the union’s contract, every civilian employee in the department would have to be fired before officers could be let go.

But Shields said the city can’t afford to lose any more officers. One major test for the department will be the G8 and NATO summits that Chicago will host in May, he said.

“I do not think the Chicago Police Department is by any means prepared for the G8 summit,” he said. “If they are having a difficult time handling packs of teenagers coming downtown, what are they going to do when they have professional protesters come here in the thousands?”

Shields accused City Hall of floating bogus budget-cutting numbers.

“$190 million is a fake number,” he said. “The city is always crying poor.”

Although the mayor refused to say Wednesday whether he would eliminate the department’s vacancies, his top aides said it would not violate his campaign promises.

Before he was elected, Emanuel said he would put 1,000 more police officers on the beat and erase a more than $635 million city budget shortfall without cutting police, raising taxes or using one-time revenues.

Emanuel noted he already has shifted 750 officers to beat patrol by disbanding specialized units and reassigning officers doing desk work.

He said budget cuts would primarily focus on the police department’s bloated brass.

“I didn’t make all those changes so we roll back. … I’ve already done 750. We’re going to move more” officers back on the street, he said.

“In my office, I cut 10 percent. … We cut $400 million out of the Chicago Public Schools central office. There will be no central office that’s not part of reform. You can’t close a $637 million budget [gap] by putting up signs that say, ‘Do Not Trespass.’ So we’re going to make changes. But it’s not going to affect the amount of officers on the street.”

Emanuel said the public would have to wait until he unveils his budget Oct. 15 to find out whether the 1,400 police vacancies would be eliminated.

But he appeared to be setting the stage for just that when he said: “It’s not about more police officers. It’s about putting more police officers on the street [and] making sure the central office is where there’s reform.”

Chicago aldermen who must approve the mayor’s budget were divided on the issue of eliminating police vacancies.

“I would probably go along with it if that’s what it’s going take to get the city’s finances on the right track,” said Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), chairman of the City Council’s Rules Committee.

“Of course it’s going hurt. But everything is going hurt. There’s no easy way out of this. … To make an omelette, there’s gonna have to be a lot of eggs broken, unfortunately. Nobody is gonna be happy.”

Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th) said he would have a “hard time supporting” the elimination of police vacancies when a healthy chunk of those openings should be filled with officers assigned to gang-infested wards, like his own.

“We are having a continuous problem in our communities [with] killings of young people, killings of innocent people. We’ve got to do something to tighten that up. Cutting back police is not the best strategy,” Solis said.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he would only go along with eliminating the 1,400 vacancies if he gets an ironclad guarantee.

“We don’t want to see a reduction of manpower in the areas where they have the most violent crimes,” Brookins said.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) took a harder line after joining Emanuel at an unrelated news conference in Woodlawn a few blocks away from where four teenagers sitting on a porch were wounded in a drive-by shooting Tuesday night.

“If you’re going to take 1,400 police officers away, then realign the beats so those [fewer] officers are more concentrated where the high-crime rates are,” Rush said.

Emanuel has steered clear of beat realignment for fear of dividing the city along racial lines while reassigning dozens of new beat officers to high-crime areas.

But Rush said “It racially brings the city together. We have to realign the beats because it’s a question of equity and a question of need.”

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley routinely saved tens of millions of dollars by authorizing a certain number of police officers in his annual budget, but failing to fill police vacancies or keep pace with attrition.

The former mayor’s final budget was a classic example. It authorized the hiring of 200 additional police officers. But not a single one of them has been hired or entered the police academy.

Emanuel’s demand for a 15 to 20 percent cut in a department that accounts for one-third of the city’s corporate budget would appear to leave no alternative but to play the same manpower game.

In a road map to fiscal solvency released two months ago, the Civic Federation also urged the new mayor to eliminate “unnecessary layers of management” and supervisory benefits in the police department, reduce “chronic absenteeism” and “strategize beat staffing” based on the U.S. census, 911 calls and relevant crime data.

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