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Editorial: Intriguing way to put more cops on the street

Lines police officers move south S. Michigan Ave. during an anti-NATO march Sunday May 20 2012 Chicago. | John J.

Lines of police officers move south on S. Michigan Ave. during an anti-NATO march Sunday, May 20, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 27, 2012 10:59AM

Among the reasons we endorsed Rahm Emanuel for mayor was that we agreed with the importance he placed on building up and protecting Chicago’s downtown core, the city’s financial engine.

We recognized — and Emanuel recognized — the importance of prizing and providing services to every city block, but a safe and bustling downtown core is essential to the well-being of the entire city.

For that same reason, we’re intrigued with Ald. Brendan Reilly’s new proposal to allow businesses, especially in tourist-heavy areas unsettled by mob attacks last summer, to pay for extra cops working overtime.

At a time when nobody has figured out where to get the money to hire more full-time officers, this may be the only practical short-term way to put more cops on the street — at least in certain parts of town.

But two serious downsides give us pause:

The city already hires hundreds of off-duty officers on overtime, especially on weekends, to beef up patrols rather than increase the size of the police force. At some time, those officers are going to burn out. An effective police force cannot rely on OT forever.

More troubling, Reilly’s proposal amounts to a kind of creeping privatization of police services in which those with money, such as North Michigan Avenue retailers, can command more police protection, while those with less money, such as small shop owners along 79th Street, cannot.

Reilly sees the problem, which is why he says his OT cops plan should be only a “stopgap” measure. “We gotta protect the downtown core,” he told us, “but long term we need to hire more cops.”

It’s important to stress that the extra officers would answer only to their police superiors, not to any business or merchant group within the patrol area.

As Reilly also said, there is a “perception,” if unfair, that Chicago’s tourism areas are “not entirely safe.”

Chicago, for the sake of the whole city, can’t let that perception continue.

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