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Aldermen demand at least 500 — and as many as 1,000 — more cops

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) says Rahm Emanuel must follow through on police reform, or he'll lose the black vote. | Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Police Department needs at least 500 and as many as 1,000 additional officers — over and above attrition — to confront an alarming spike in homicides and shootings that has the city on pace to top 750 murders in 2016, influential aldermen said Wednesday.

Five days after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader telegraphed the mayor’s intention to hire “hundreds” of additional officers, chairmen of the Black and Hispanic caucuses upped the ante.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) demanded at least 500 additional officers, at a cost of roughly $50 million, and offered to support yet another property tax increase to pay for it.

That’s on top of nearly $1.1 billion in tax increases to solve the pension crisis at the city and public schools with nothing tangible to show for it.

“We’re not getting enough in service for the money we’re charging . . . We have to do these things because the can has been kicked so far down the road,” Sawyer said.

Emanuel said Wednesday his 2017 budget would be “built around” the need for “a net increase of police officers.” But the precise number has not yet been determined.

“My No. 1 priority — and I told this to my whole staff. In this budget, we’re gonna increase our investments with more police officers. Every other decision will be made around that priority. But the decision on how many is gonna be made by the superintendent and that’s what we’re working towards,” the mayor said.

Emanuel also stressed that the public safety address he plans to deliver on Sept. 20 will focus on what he calls the “four P’s”: police, prevention, penalties and parenting.

“Anybody [who] deals with . . . fighting crime and specifically gun violence knows that it’s not one piece of the puzzle,” Emanuel said.

“If we don’t change the laws associated with gun penalties but only put more cops, we haven’t done anything to help back them and the neighborhood up. If we put more police but don’t invest in more important opportunities for our kids to learn right from wrong, we haven’t helped our officers.”

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson added, “I appreciate the support of so many Council members for our plans to increase the size of our police force. The specific size of the increase will be a decision I make based on data, on the department’s needs, and on our crime fighting strategy.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this year that the 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.

On Wednesday, Sawyer argued that runaway overtime can no longer mask the police manpower shortage.

“Officers are fatigued . . . If you ask them to work seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. They’re gonna get tired. They’re not gonna be at their best. We need a fresh crop of officers paired with experienced officers,” Sawyer said.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, agreed that 500 additional officers beyond the number needed to keep pace with retirements is the bare minimum needed to stop the never-ending cycle of gang violence blamed for Chicago’s deadliest month in 20 years.

Another 13 homicides and 53 shootings were added to the bloody total over Labor Day weekend.

The Chicago Police Department has about 12,200 sworn officers, including a class of recruits who completed their training at the police academy last week. There are currently 468 sworn vacancies.

“One of the things that overtime tried to accomplish was [to tamp down] the spikes in violence. That strategy has not worked. Which means we need more police and we need more police better trained to deal with our current environment. That’s just the bottom line,” Cardenas said.

“You can’t hide it anymore. And I really don’t like the fact that crime is spreading to other areas. It tells you that people are brazen about it. They know the police can’t [keep up with it]. Their hands are tied.”

Pressed on where he would find the $50 million to $100 million, Cardenas talked about shutting down the city’s 146 tax-increment-financing districts. That’s a pot of money that aldermen, including Cardenas, have been eyeing to help bail out the Chicago Public Schools.

“With the assessment increase, with the property tax increases, these TIFs probably have more than what they need. We need to completely exit these TIFs from existence. Really there’s no need for them anymore,” Cardenas said.

Ald. John Arena (45th), a key member of the Progressive Caucus, said it’s high time that Emanuel deliver on his 2011 campaign promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers.

After taking office, Emanuel revised the pledge 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 closing police stations and eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies.

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.

Until the mayor’s floor leader Pat O’Connor (40th) changed course last week, Emanuel and his Budget Director Alex Holt had 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.

“In the last five years through attrition, we’re down 1,000 officers. We see the results on the street. Another 13 murdered this weekend . . . [Police Supt.] Eddie Johnson came out and said, `We’re doing our job.’ At the same time, acknowledging that his officers are sitting back because they’re afraid of getting sued,” Arena said.

“You need to go to 500 or 1,000 officers . . . Let’s start implementing the policies [Emanuel] ran on five years ago. Let’s get it done now because it’s gonna take time to get those officers through the academy.”

Arena said he would start paying for the police hiring blitz by reducing runaway overtime that has denied police officers the “mental breaks they need.”

If that’s not enough, Arena said he would seek authorization from the Illlinois General Assembly to impose a city income tax that could generate an annual windfall of up to $400 million.

“We seem to be able to go down to Springfield when it’s convenient for the mayor’s agenda. If the mayor’s agenda is protecting Chicagoans, then let’s go down to Springfield. We’ll walk down there together,” he said.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th), powerful chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, was the only aldermen who was not in the mood to talk about police hiring.

Burke said he first wants to explore the possibility of hiring “auxiliary” police officers. That’s an idea he has floated repeatedly over the years — and once got a budget appropriation to pursue — with nothing to show for it.

“There are an awful lot of retired Chicago police officers who are leaving who are trained, who are skilled, who still have the energy and the dedication to law enforcement. And we should be able to take advantage of those trained officers,” Burke said.