Drought of detective exams blamed for Chicago’s dismal homicide clearance rate

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Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, right, and First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio prepare to testify at a City Council budget hearing on Tuesday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Department’s chief of detectives on Tuesday blamed the long drought between detective exams for the city’s dismal homicide clearance rate but claimed slow, but steady progress.

“We didn’t have a detectives promotional test for 10 years, and detective manpower came down over a number of years,” Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples told aldermen during budget hearings.

“In the last [two] years, there have seen 503 new detectives promoted . . . We currently have a detective manpower staff of just under 1,200. That means 42 percent of our detectives are new.”

Staples said the infusion of manpower is already paying dividends for a clearance rate that mayoral candidates have pegged at 17 percent, but Staples claimed is 42 percent, according to FBI guidelines.

The rejuvenated ranks of detectives “cleared more murders last year than any of the last eight years,” she said.

“It’s not a win, but it’s a start,” she said, acknowledging that the murder clearance rate for the “current year” is down by 5 percent.

The homicide clearance rate was just one of many issues raised during the budget hearing on Tuesday.

Aldermen homed in on everything from downtown shootings, carjackings and officer suicides to efforts to rebuild Chicago’s moribund community policing program and the reduction in officers in neighborhoods impacted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 decision to close three district stations: Wood, Prairie and Belmont.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes the old Wood District, said the promise to hold impacted neighborhoods harmless turned out to be an empty one.

“We used to have 468 officers for that same geographic area that we now have maybe 370,” Waguespack said.

“Are we gonna get back to those numbers so we can prevent the spate of carjackings? There doesn’t seem to be an end to it or car thefts . . . When I get 100 emails from people about a car theft or a carjacking . . . and the response is, ‘We’re gonna work on it in budget,’ they don’t want to hear that.”

Johnson said he “cannot control” officers retiring or “bidding out of the district to go to specialized” units.

“Those are the numbers that keep fluctuating. That might cause the rise and spikes in the number of officers. But I still give you my word that, to the extent possible, we will always try to keep you up to a certain number of officers,” the superintendent said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) used his allotted time to trace a troubling increase in downtown shootings to “drug encampments” on Lower Wacker Drive and Lower Michigan Avenue.

“These are folks severely addicted to crack, heroin or both . . . Drug dealers, often gang-related, are now competing for turf to serve these clients . . . Drug dealers are actually employing many of the folks in the encampments to help sell their drugs,” he said.

Johnson said the 1st District and the Organized Crime Unit are “actually looking at that,” refusing to reveal specifics.

Under questioning from West Side Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), Johnson offered spirited arguments against stop-and-frisk policing and for the $95 million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park that has become a symbol of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s misplaced priorities among young people who have united under the #NoCopAcademy hashtag.

Johnson said the cramped and antiquated police academy built in 1979 does not have the space for scenario-based training pivotal in a world where terrorism and mass shootings have become shockingly commonplace.

The superintendent also revealed that he has recently bolstered the number of police officers assigned to Chicago airports — from 176 officers to 224 at O’Hare and from 59 to 74 officers at Midway Airport.

“We have to be realistic in terms of the fact that O’Hare Airport and Midway would be prime terrorist targets,” he said.

“We’ve been all over the country looking at best practices . . . so we could get our numbers up to speed in terms of protecting those hard targets. We’re not quite there yet. But we’re getting closer.”

Johnson proudly proclaimed to have assembled a command staff more diverse than any in CPD history and said he’s working to deliver the same across all ranks.

But the superintendent told Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, that he is reluctant to relax rules that allow credit history searches to be used to disqualify would-be officers.

“One of the quickest ways to get in trouble as a police officer is people trying to give you things,” Johnson said before the hearing was cut short when an officer was injured by the accidental discharge of his weapon.

“We don’t want to put people in a situation where the job gets them in trouble.”

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