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Editorial: City must give details on police deployment

Updated: November 25, 2011 8:07AM

For the last 20 years in Chicago there’s been talk about deploying police officers in a way that substantially benefits high-crime areas.

Year after year, lots of talk. Year after year, little action.

Is this finally changing under Mayor Rahm Emanuel? Given the lack of data released by the City and the Chicago Police Department on how police resources are allocated, no one really knows.

Emanuel has made it clear he isn’t interested in shifting officers from low-crime to high-crime areas.

He and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy over the last few months have instead beefed up the number of officers in high-crime areas by moving officers from desk duty and specialized units to district beats.

Englewood, Chicago Lawn, South Chicago and the Calumet district, for example, have all gotten more officers, a welcome and positive development.

But has that resolved long-standing inequities that leave South and West Side police districts with far fewer officers per violent crime and 911 call volume than North Side districts?

New data published by the Chicago News Cooperative suggest otherwise. The News Cooperative obtained police officer assignment data for all 25 city police districts and found that the high-crime districts have much higher ratios of violent crime per beat officers than do low-crime areas.

The Englewood district, for example, has 386 officers and 1,531 violent crimes for the first eight months of the year, producing a ratio of 3.97 violent crimes per beat officer, the News Cooperative found. This contrasts with the 12th district on the Near West Side, which has 270 officers and 341 violent crimes — a ratio of 1.26 violence crimes per beat officer.

This mirrors results published in the Chicago Sun-Times last year. Using different measures — the volume of 911 calls and the number of times there was no car to respond to a call — the Sun-Times found that North Side police districts would lose officers to the South and West Side if the city were to reallocate cops based on these measures.

But both the CNC and the Sun-Times analyses were limited because the police department and the City — under Mayor Richard M. Daley and also under Emanuel — refused to release data on police assignments and 911 call volume.

Both the CNC and the Sun-Times got their data through back channels. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also has been trying to collect this data but is running up against the same brick wall.

The police department says releasing this data would compromise security. We aren’t buying it. We doubt a gang-banger would move his operations simply because he knows that one district has a few more officers than another.

As the city grapples with how best to allocate its limited resources and keep Chicagoans in every corner of the city safe, a robust, well-informed public debate is vital.

Strong arguments exist both for and against moving officers from low-crime areas and all arguments must be fully aired.

But right now, without full access to the data, advocates for shifting resources to the most crime-ridden areas don’t stand a fighting chance.

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