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Shooting of 6-year-old girl revives demand for 1,000 more cops

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to reporters following Wednesday' s City Council meeting about recent gun violence in Chicago. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday unleashed a familiar emotional tirade in response to the shooting of a 6-year-old Englewood girl caught in the crossfire between rival gangs, but the mayor’s words rang hollow to the local alderman.

After three shootings this week in a gang-ridden South Side ward that includes Englewood and Back of the Yards, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) is demanding that Emanuel finally make good on his 2011 campaign promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers.

In the meantime, Lopez wants Chicago Police officers now working in pairs for their own safety to get reinforcements from the Illinois National Guard, the Illinois State Police, the Cook County Sheriff’s office or all of the above.

“The police are now forced to be reactionary. They’re forced not to be pro-active and engaged. … We’re pulling them back because of the safety concerns we have for our officers. But that hurts our ability to bring stability to the neighborhoods,” Lopez said.

“What happened yesterday and what has happened three times in my ward this week already — these are atrocities against the community. And everything needs to be on the table. We can’t simply say that we’re doing enough or keep shifting the blame. This is our problem. We need to step it up.”

The mayor’s office responded to Lopez’s demand for more police officers with a list of steps the city has taken to improve public safety.

They include moving more than 150 more officers from desk jobs to street duty; forging partnerships with the sheriff’s office and state police; conducting a series of raids targeting major gangs; and increasing the number of “impact zones” flooded with additional officers.

Other initiatives include creating a summer mobile patrol unit; refining the overtime system to have moonlighting officers work in their home districts; and expanding foot and bike patrols.

At a news conference after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Emanuel’s emotional tirade against gang bangers who fire their weapons without compunction or consequence, judges who send them back to the streets and community leaders who refused to speak out against the bloodbath would have been more powerful if it wasn’t so familiar.

“You have three generations sitting on a porch enjoying a summer [day] in Chicago. A grandmother, a mother and a daughter. … This beautiful child shot in the stomach because a bunch of thugs are shooting at a bunch of other thugs. … Thank God she’s not gonna lose her life because of the great medical work of the doctors and nurses at Comer Hospital. But her life will be different,” Emanuel said.

“When is enough enough? Where is — and I don’t mean when I say the community just the people of Englewood. All of us. This is a child of Chicago. Where is the outrage and the condemnation and moral outrage about a bunch of gang-bangers shooting at other gang-bangers without a sense of responsibility or accountability? Not only morally, not only ethically, but from the criminal justice system. And there’s not a weekend that our officers are not putting their lives on the line … pulling people off the streets who have a criminal record that’s longer than ‘War and Peace.’”

Emanuel said the answer lies in rebuilding the shattered trust between citizens and police. It also includes providing jobs along with summer and after-school programs that give kids a constructive alternative to gangs.

“But I also believe in consequences, actions you are responsible for and you should be held accountable for. And the voice of a community at large. Those gang-bangers need to know there’s consequences—both morally and legally,” the mayor said, pounding the podium for emphasis.

“There is no sense by somebody behind that gun pulling a trigger that they are responsible. There are too many guns, too few values and not a sense of consequence to the actions you take….The ability to have guns—and any type of type of gun. The ability to use `em without a sense of consequence. And a criminal justice system in which those who are using guns are repeatedly put back on the streets.”

A stray bullet hit 6-year-old Tacarra Morgan, who was sitting on her front porch Tuesday afternoon in the West Englewood neighborhood. | Provided photo<br>
A stray bullet hit 6-year-old Tacarra Morgan, who was sitting on her front porch Tuesday afternoon in the West Englewood neighborhood. | Provided photo

Lopez said he has no doubt about the mayor’s sincerity. He talked to the mayor after both men visited the wounded 6-year-old, Tacarra Morgan, and her family at Comer Children’s Hospital on Tuesday.

But he said it’s high time the mayor put the city’s money behind his emotional words.

When Lopez was asked where he would find the money to hire 1,000 more police officers, he offered to raise property taxes — again.

That’s on top of the $588 million property tax increase approved last fall for police and fire pensions and school construction and the $250 million increase the Board of Education is about to approve for teacher pensions.

“We have to decide if having our streets fully protected, if having our streets be places where children can come out without getting a bullet in their stomach just by sitting on the porch is worth paying for,” Lopez said.

Emanuel campaigned for a first term on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding special units. The other half were primarily officers working desk jobs reassigned to street duty.

The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies, declaring an end to what he called the annual “shell game” of budgeting for police jobs the city had no intention of filling.

When shootings and murders spiked and Chicago started making headlines as the nation’s murder capital, Emanuel used runaway overtime to tamp down the violence, spending $100.3 million in 2013 and $99 million in 2014.

Vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia vowed to deliver on Emanuel’s broken promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, arguing that runaway overtime was no substitute for additional manpower.

Emanuel and his Budget Director Alex Holt have argued repeatedly that overtime is a more flexible and cost-effective substitute for police hiring because the city doesn’t have to bear the cost of pensions and benefits for new officers.

Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo has branded the mounting overtime unhealthy, unsustainable and a recipe for officer burnout. He could not be reached for comment on the new numbers.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this year that the Chicago Police Department spent a record $116.1 million on overtime in 2015 — up 17.2 percent from the previous year — to mask a manpower shortage that has mushroomed under Emanuel with police retirements outpacing hiring by 975 officers.