Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he plans a police hiring blitz — coupled with increased training and crime-fighting technology — to confront a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings, but it won’t matter how many new officers the city hires if officers remain in their defensive crouch.
“We can’t have a Police Department that feels like it’s better for them to just drive in a community without stopping and stopping the gang-bangers and the drug dealers. That’s not good and healthy for the community. We need to give them support to do their job,” Emanuel said during a taping of the WLS-AM Radio program, “Connected to Chicago,” to be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday.
“We’re gonna make all of the reforms necessary from a transparency and accountability standpoint for our Police Department. But we can’t do this to the police. We’ve got to do this with our police. And our police have to be part and seen as part of the solution to the violence as well as part of the solution to changing the relationship with the community.”
Last fall, Emanuel contended during a closed-door meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and 20 big-city mayors and police chiefs that police officers across the nation were becoming “fetal” because they’re afraid their videotaped encounters with the public will end up on YouTube.
Less than two months later, the pullback by Chicago Police officers got dramatically worse, prompting a precipitous drop in police activity.
It happened after the court-ordered release of a video played around the world of white police officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 rounds into the body of black teenager Laquan McDonald. The video triggered a sweeping federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
In a commentary that appeared last Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo was quoted as saying that, “The streets are gone” because police officers no longer believe that politicians and the public have their back.
Earlier this week, Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose ward is home to scores of Chicago Police officers, argued that it doesn’t matter how many additional police officers Emanuel hires if the anti-police fervor that has been sweeping the city and the nation doesn’t change.
“We need to support the police. We need to let the police be the police and do their work,” he said.
“Communities need to partner with the Police Department. Right now, we’re not seeing that.”
Just days before delivering a major policy address on crime, Emanuel agreed with O’Shea.
“Unless we change the narrative where our police are seen as being put on the defensive, we’re not gonna get where we need to be,” the mayor said.
Two weeks ago, Emanuel’s City Council floor leader told the Chicago Sun-Times the mayor plans to hire “hundreds” of additional police officers to confront a 50 percent spike in homicides and shootings that has the city on pace to record 750 murders in 2016.
A few days later, the mayor confirmed that his 2017 budget would be “built around” the need to hire more officers.
Chairmen of the City Council’s Black and Hispanic caucuses have argued that the Chicago Police Department needs at least 500 and as many as 1,000 additional officers — “over and above attrition” — to ease a severe manpower shortage masked by a 17 percent surge in police overtime, to $116.1 million last year.
Under Emanuel, police retirements have outpaced hiring by 975 officers. There are currently 468 sworn vacancies.
During private briefings in advance of his anti-violence speech, sources said Emanuel told stakeholders he would put “significant numbers” of additional police officers on the street.
The mayor didn’t get any more specific during the radio interview. He would only talk about adding “more police officers above what we have today” and about a “major expansion of technology on our streets” that includes more surveillance cameras and gunshot detection sensors.
He also talked about the need for more training for police officers, increased penalties for repeat gun offenders and about a dramatic expansion in the “Becoming-a-Man” mentoring program that targets adolescent and teenaged boys.
BAM served 2,700 students in the last school year and has seen crimes fall and graduation rates soar among its participants. The mayor wants to boost the funding for BAM and other mentoring programs to include 8,000 students, sources said.
“Some people supported, but some people criticized me when I gave my second inaugural address focused on young men . . . who turn to gangs . . . Young men who are sent to prison and become men. They start off as boys. And young adolescents without hope,” the mayor said.
“So, I have a precedent for talking about this. Not only talking about it, but doing something about it. The guiding North Stars would be around policing, around prevention, around penalties and around parenting because they all play a role. And opportunity. We’re gonna lay out an agenda and the resources to meet that agenda.”