Johnson vows fair allocation of police officers, CAPS overhaul

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“We want to arrest the right people at the right times for the right reasons,” police Supt. Eddie Johnson says. “But just indiscriminately stopping people? No. We cannot arrest our way out of this.” | Sun-Times file photo

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson vowed Thursday to develop a “fair, transparent and objective methodology” for determining where to assign both veteran police officers and the 970 reinforcements Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to hire over the next two years.

A study that could lead to the police reallocation South and West Side aldermen have been demanding for years will be conducted by Alexander Weiss, a staffing expert, and Paul Evans, a former superintendent for the Boston Police Department.

Weiss has conducted 30 similar studies for cities such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, Louisville, Kentucky, and New Orleans. He conducted a more cursory study for the Chicago Police Department in 2010.

This time, the Chicago study will be far more extensive and include far more variables than calls for service. A draft report is expected in about four months.

“Time currently consumed by patrol officers. Variations of geography. Preferred balance for reactive [vs. pro-active] policing activities. Selection of an officer relief factor in order to ensure officers are not overworked. Ensuring flexibility to adjust and respond to emergency problems and issues across the city. Those are several of the things he’s used in the past,” First Deputy Police Supt. Kevin Navarro told aldermen at a budget hearing.

“The 2010 study was done pro-bono with very limited resources. This one, we’re looking for a more in-depth study from Mr. Weiss.”

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) asked whether the study would take a fresh look at Emanuel’s controversial 2012 decision to close three district police stations — Wood, Prairie and Belmont. The first station closings in more than 50 years left Chicago with 22 districts, instead of 25.

“Was that a successful set of mergers? Will we revisit that in any way?” Waguespack said.

Navarro replied: “Yes that’s actually being considered. The district consolidations.”

Waguespack countered: “Further district consolidation?”

Navvaro countered: “No, no. The previous. In 2010, it wasn’t consolidated yet. So, [Weiss] is taking that into consideration.”

In his remarks to the City Council, Johnson acknowledged the elephant in the room: How will the 970 new officers be deployed? It’s been the question ever since Emanuel announced the two-year police hiring surge that marked a stunning about-face for a mayor who has relied on police overtime to the tune of $116 million a year to stop a surge in homicides and shootings.

“To ensure equity across the city, we must have a fair, transparent and objective methodology for determining beat officer deployments,” the superintendent said.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, raised the political concern that has blocked police redeployment so many times before.

“Are you gonna take our personnel from our area?” Reboyras asked.

“For the new hires I can tell you all this: Everybody will get something,” Johnson replied.

Then Ald. James Cappleman (46th) asked: Will aldermen play any role at all in “dictating” police deployment?

“Our constituents get angry and furious with us because we did not advocate strongly. There is this belief that the more powerful the alderman is, the more likely that alderman is to get more police within their district. I don’t think that’s a good way of making decisions about deployment of police officers, but there nevertheless is that perception,” Cappleman said.

Johnson laughed, then answered with remarkable candor.

“We probably haven’t done a good job of ensuring that some of our police districts have the amount of resources they could because we had a tendency to pull everything into the most violent districts. But that kind of leaves the backdoor open in the good neighborhoods for property crime especially,” he said.

“When we do this analysis, we’ll utilize the data that we get from that. But we’ll also use common sense analysis. Sometimes boots on the ground information is just invaluable in determining where you need resources. I don’t think Mr. Weiss is utilizing information from public officials when he makes that determination. Ordinarily, I would not either. However, I do listen when you all say to me that you need additional resources. I don’t want to commit to putting that factor into the actual formula, but we do listen to all suggestions.”

The superintendent also promised to breathe new life into Chicago’s once trailblazing but now moribund community policing program.

To do that, he’s forming a Community Policing Advisory Panel chaired by Chief of Patrol Fred Waller that includes national experts, police command staff and local community leaders.

They’ve been asked to develop recommendations outlining “strategies for enhancing community policing” by March 31. That includes ways to “break down the barriers between youth and police.”

“When we streamlined the CAPS offices, we inadvertently cut some ties with the community that were invaluable in terms of giving us the information that we needed to keep those communities safe,” he said.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said reviving community policing will take nothing short of a “culture shift.”

“When you go to a CAPS meeting, it’s basically face-to-face 911. Neighbor has a complaint. Gives it to the cop. The sergeant waits 30 days and gets a report back. . . . Face-to-face 911 is not authentic,” Munoz said.

Emanuel went around the Police Board to choose Johnson, who didn’t apply for the job, after the mayor fired his only Police Supt. Garry McCarthy in the unrelenting fallout from the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. The choice of an African-American insider was popular with aldermen and the rank-and-file alike.

That honeymoon period was on display during Thursday’s budget hearing. It was a marked departure from the contentious hearings during McCarthy’s tenure.

“For the first time in a long time, I feel positive about the Police Department,” said South Side Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).

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