In his pitch Monday to recruit a diverse pool of applicants for an upcoming police entrance exam — the first since 2013 — Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s approach was equal parts practical and idealogical.
“At the end of the day, it’s a pretty good-paying job with great benefits,” McCarthy said at a news conference held at police headquarters.
“Officers will start with a salary of $47,000, and after 18 months that will go to $72,000, and there’s not a lot of places where you can get that in this environment right now, in this economy,” he said, adding that health care for the whole family was included.
And, for the idealists: “It’s probably the most noble thing a person can do with their life,” McCarthy said.
The job offers “the best and the worst of humanity in the same day, frankly,” McCarthy said, noting that the pendulum swings from “I can’t believe that just happened” — when encountering the best of humanity — to “God almighty, I can’t believe what I just saw.”
“The rewards are so much greater than the things that you suffer through, quite frankly, and that’s the only way I can put it,” he said.
The application process is now open. It closes Dec. 16. Applicants will take a written exam in February.
McCarthy acknowledged the national unrest associated with the profession.
“You all know the environment that we’re living through over the last couple of years, some of the tragedies that we’ve been involved in and, unfortunately, contributed to, and some people would say that now is not the time to be a police officer. I’d say exactly the opposite; there’s never been a more important time to make a difference in your community.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel also spoke at the news conference. He chose not to reflect upon recent comments he made while asking for support police in which he said fear of starring in a viral video has prompted officers to become ‘fetal’ — and more reactive than proactive when engaging the public.
“It’s also a great opportunity to make a difference,” Emanuel said Monday. “I don’t think it’s just a job; it’s a calling.”
Emanuel and McCarthy stressed that priority would be given to applicants who are Chicago Public Schools graduates, those with a military background and anybody with a family member who died in the line of duty while serving in the Chicago police or fire departments.
The comments were made at a lectern behind which stood a diverse group of 13 young officers who will be tasked with recruiting applicants at churches and community groups around the city.
McCarthy acknowledged the department’s historical shortcomings regarding diversity within its ranks.
“It’s been a dynamic in this department that we’ve struggled with for a long time,” he said.
McCarthy said there is no goal in the number of applicants it hopes to receive. “We want to get as many as we can,” he said.
“We are going to stay up with attrition. The size of the department is about 12,500, and trust me, the mayor makes sure we stay on top of keeping those numbers where they’re supposed to be,” he said.
The application process “will have a rigor to it and also be fair in making sure that everybody knows there’s a ‘Help Wanted’ sign when it comes to the City of Chicago and joining the police department — which, to be honest, let’s be up-front, didn’t always exist.”
In December 2013, a record 19,000 applicants flocked to McCormick Place to take the police exam. The applicant pool nearly doubled the 9,600 that took the test in December 2010 and the 4,061 police hopefuls who sat for the February 2006 exam.
Emanuel previously said he wants to attract a pool of applicants that “better reflects Chicago’s diverse population.”
Over the summer, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) warned the outreach program will fall short — as did previous efforts — due to background checks and psychological exams administered to police candidates that act as “tools used to weed out and disqualify” minorities.
Beale, former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, predicted that the Police Department would remain disproportionately white — and crime-fighting will suffer because of it — unless changes are made to the independently-administered background checks and psychological exams.
At the time, McCarthy fired back: “That’s absurd. … Absolutely absurd. There are standards. We have to give psychological exams to people who we’re going to give guns to. I don’t think that’s something we could possibly get away from.”
In comments made prior to Monday’s news conference, McCarthy explained the lackluster results of previous minority recruitment efforts.
“We didn’t get the [black and Hispanic] numbers coming in that we wanted. . . . It has a lot to do with what’s happening in the world today,” McCarthy said.
“You know what’s happening across the country and how people are looking at policing right now,” he added at the time. “When I’ve spoken to a lot of our African-American officers, they tell stories about losing a lot of friends when they became police officers. At the end of the day, that has to be overcome. That’s part of the reason why we’re embarking on this community relations strategy building that we’re doing right now.”
This time around, Emanuel chose a communications management firm founded by his longtime friend and former White House colleague David Axelrod to conduct a $100,000 minority outreach campaign that includes a digital advertising focus.
The contract was awarded to ASGK Public Strategies LLC, the firm Axelrod founded in 2002 with partner Eric Sedler; it now has offices in New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami, as well as Chicago.
Axelrod is Emanuel’s friend of 30 years. The two men worked together in the White House when Emanuel was serving as President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff and Axelrod was a senior adviser to the president.
Axelrod has sold his interest to ASGK, but the firm still has deep ties to Emanuel. A former Democratic state lawmaker from Chicago, Judy Erwin, who co-chaired Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral campaign, has been a partner in ASGK, which recently changed its name to Kivvit.
Erwin abruptly resigned from Emanuel’s transition team after reports that she conducted political business on state time while serving as executive director of the Illinois State Board of Higher Education.
The violation of state ethics rules, which prompted Erwin to pay a fine and promise never again to seek state office, occurred in 2008 while Erwin was raising money for the Obama campaign. The state’s Executive Ethics Commission did not rule on the case until 2011.
The Kivvit team also includes Emanuel’s former press secretary, Sarah Hamilton, and the mayor’s former deputy press secretary, Catherine Turco.
Eligibility requirements for police department applicants include:
- Education/military experience: 60 hours of college credit or 36 months of continuous active-duty service; or, one year continuous active service with 30 semester hours of college credit (by the time of hiring, not time of application).
- Valid State of Illinois driver’s license (required at time of hire, not at time of application).
- Residency in the City of Chicago (required at time of hire, not at time of application).
- Pre-employment written exam
- Strength, endurance and flexibility exams – known as the Police Office Wellness Evaluation Report (POWER test)
- Background investigation
- Psychological test
- Medical examination
- Drug screen
- Additional information can be obtained at www.ChicagoPolice.org/TakeTheTest or by calling 311.
Contributing: Fran Spielman