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THE WATCHDOGS: Chicago’s segregated police stations

The Austin District police station, 5701 W. Madison. There are more than three white cops for every black cop assigned to this and another West Side district serving black neighborhoods that include Austin, West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times file photo

Chicago has 22 police stations scattered across the city, and white police officers hold at least half of the jobs in 12 of them — including two stations serving black neighborhoods on the West Side, where murders and shootings are rampant.

Black cops have more than half the jobs in just two police stations — both on the South Side, one serving Hyde Park, Kenwood, Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard and Washington Park, the other covering Roseland and West Pullman. Some districts have hardly any black officers at all.

Hispanic police officers hold more than half the jobs at only one police station, a district that includes Little Village, one of the city’s most heavily Mexican neighborhoods.

More than 70 percent of Chicago’s nearly 12,000 police officers are assigned to one of the city’s 22 police districts. They include Chicago’s street officers, the most visible cops in the city, the ones most likely to respond to calls for help, but not the department’s detective units and other specialized bureaus.

But how these cops are deployed in different parts of the city varies widely by race and ethnicity, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found. The findings are based on data obtained from the Chicago Police Department detailing the race and gender of every officer assigned to every district.

They come as the department finds itself the subject of intense scrutiny over race since a judge ordered the release last year of police video showing Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, being shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke, a white cop who’s now charged with first-degree murder.

The public outcry that followed the release of that video prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire his first police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, who is white, and replace him with Eddie Johnson, an African American who has spoken of the need for the city to recruit more minority cops. That’s become a key issue in a city in which 52 percent of the police department is white, while two-thirds of the city’s residents are minority.

The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into how the city assigns cops to districts as part of its broader investigation of the police department’s practices and policies that began last year after the release of the video showing Van Dyke killing McDonald as the 17-year-old appeared to be walking away.

McDonald was killed in the Chicago Lawn district, where the Sun-Times analysis found 65 percent of the cops are white, 26 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are black.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, seen here with Supt. Eddie Johnson on July 1, wants more black officers assigned to black neighborhoods. | James Foster / Sun-Times
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, seen here with Supt. Eddie Johnson on July 1, wants more black officers assigned to black neighborhoods. | James Foster / Sun-Times

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, says he thinks Chicago needs more black officers assigned to black neighborhoods — which are often patrolled by rookies, black or white, who are typically assigned to high-crime beats because they have no seniority to transfer to other assignments.

“You can’t presume everything just based on race,” Raoul says. “But there’s an increased likelihood that, if you have an African American, they’re more familiar with the nuances of the African American community. There’s a certain cultural competence that can allow for officers to distinguish between one individual who may be dressed in a hop-hop type of attire that’s not a threat and somebody who is, in fact, a threat.

“We have to accept that people have certain prejudices, whether or not they’re malicious, just based on the things they’re familiar with and the people they’re familiar with,” Raoul says, citing “the sort-of segregated nature of the city. And it leads to people prejudging certain circumstances.”

But Wesley Skogan, a Northwestern University professor who specializes in police issues, says race shouldn’t factor into the assignment of police officers, an issue he says was debated by Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force.

“It flies in the face of police research,” says Skogan, who, like Raoul, was among the experts who served in working groups to help the task force suggest reforms for the police department. “Cops are blue in color, with race predicting very little about their behavior or performance.”

Raoul says that, “ideally . . . it doesn’t matter how you deploy cops of certain races because people understand each other better.” But he says, “We’re not completely there yet.”

Among other key Sun-Times findings on police deployment in Chicago:

• Blacks cops have fewer than 10 percent of the assignments in nine police districts — often trailing Hispanics or Asians. Of the 1,901 black officers assigned to districts, 69 percent of them were posted to eight police stations, all on the South Side.

• Englewood is one of the city’s smallest police districts, but it has more cops assigned to it than any other district — 509 — in the face of gang violence that’s resulted in 39 murders this year through June 22. About 44 percent of Englewood District cops are white, 29 percent are black and 23 percent Hispanic.

• The number of cops in Englewood is twice that of Jefferson Park, one of the largest police districts, where thousands of white cops have raised families for generations. Jefferson Park, which has the city’s lowest overall crime rate, has 250 cops — including 190 who are white, 37 Hispanic and a dozen black.

• The South Side’s eight police districts together account for 3,347 cops — about 40 percent of all cops assigned to the city’s 22 districts.

• There are more than three white cops for every black cop assigned to two West Side districts covering black neighborhoods that include Austin, West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park. Both districts are run by black commanders.

• Seven police districts — including the Central District, which covers the Loop — are the most racially diverse in the city. No one group holds more than half of the jobs in those districts. White cops are the biggest group in five of them, including the Central District, where they hold 49 percent of the jobs.

• Nearly 20 percent of all officers assigned to any district — 1,626 in all — have been detailed to another police unit, sometimes in another police district. Others have been assigned to the department’s marine unit, the mounted patrol, news affairs, the police academy, human resources and the superintendent’s office.

[Click here for a searchable database of Chicago police officers broken down by district assignment, race and gender.]

“The Chicago Police Department works to ensure that officers represent the communities they serve,” spokesman Frank Giancamilli says. “Officers’ assignments are based on the individual needs of each district, as well as bids by officers for appointment based on seniority, where applicable. Furthermore, CPD also listens to direct feedback from community members about the presence of officers in each neighborhood.

“As Superintendent Johnson has made clear, he is a strong advocate of community policing and believes that, beyond the issue of race, rebuilding public trust requires respectful and professional interactions between police officers and residents. By reinvigorating our community policing efforts, collaborating with residents and treating each other with respect — regardless of skin tone — we are taking steps to rebuild the public trust that is essential in making Chicago a safer city.”

Police officers are allowed to request one transfer per year under their union contract. Many officers prefer to work as close to home as possible. Many white cops might choose to work at West Side stations because they are closer to their homes on the Northwest Side, some suggest.

And a desire to be close to home might also explain why few black officers work in North Side districts, says Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the city’s largest police union.

“If I live in Roseland or South Shore, I don’t want to drive to Rogers Park every day,” Angelo says. “Police officers are very good at what they do, and they’re very professional. If I call the police, I wouldn’t care if it’s a guy or a girl, if they’re black or brown or white — as long as they get there quick.”

Contributing: Data Reporting Lab editor Darnell Little, Sam Charles

Chicago police districts: crime, racial breakdown of officers