Vallas outlines plan to bolster Chicago Police Department to 14,000 officers

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Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas at a press conference at the Union League Club in May 2018.

Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas wants hearings, not a rushed vote, on a scheme to issue pension bonds. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas vowed Monday to rebuild the Chicago Police Department to 14,000 officers — with 1,200 detectives and one sergeant for every 10 officers — to erase years of “bad decisions” by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that, Vallas claims, contributed heavily to a surge in violent crime.

Four months after questioning the sustainability of Emanuel’s two-year plan to hire 970 additional police officers over and above attrition, Vallas upped the ante by 500 officers.

He also outlined additional spending — on everything from equipment, incentives and a new leadership academy for police supervisors to a return to five detective areas and the hiring of retired detectives to boost a 17 percent homicide clearance rate. The price tag for all that is well over $100 million.

“The police department has been disadvantaged because of the lack of consistency in funding,” Vallas said Monday.

“Staffing. The lack of detectives. The lack of supervision. The lack of equipment. The lack of training. The lack of maintaining the officer strength at the beat level. Those … bad decisions in combination have contributed in a big way to the rise in crime. Other cities don’t seem to be having these problems.”

To pay for his policing wish-list, Vallas trotted out a series of innovative ideas. They include:

  • Creating a Police Enterprise Fund to “secure funds from the confiscation of assets, new fines for gun violations and other income-generating activities.”
  • Using attrition to “gradually phase-out” full-time and private security officers at the Chicago Public Schools and the CTA. That could easily cover half the cost of salaries for full-time Chicago Police officers who assume those duties.
  • A dramatic reduction in police overtime by bolstering the force, maintaining beat integrity and using specialized units to “avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul,” as Vallas put it. (Last fall, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded that Chicago has wasted millions on police overtime because of an “unchecked culture of abuse” and “inefficient management” that failed to control costs, eliminate fraud or prevent officer fatigue.)
  • Following the lead of other major cities by inviting non-profits and “other tax-exempt organizations,” city contractors or businesses that receive tax breaks, city subsidies or “other preferential treatment” to contribute to the cost of police programs.
  • Ordering a top-to-bottom review of a Chicago Police Department budget that now stands at $1.46 billion. Even a 2 percent savings — perhaps through “strategic sourcing and leases to cut costs and help maintain equipment” could go a long way toward bankrolling the policing plan, Vallas said.
  • Using stepped up supervision, “redundant” training in use of Tasers, crisis intervention, de-escalation tactics and the new “Staff and Command Academy” academy to dramatically reduce costly settlement and judgments stemming from police shootings that could have been avoided.
  • Forging a “partnership” with the Fraternal Order of Police to develop a “long-term financial plan” to “expand and sustain” police resources.

“I haven’t finalized the price tag yet. But, I’m pretty confident that the items that I’ve identified will be able to generate enough money to basically fund it,” Vallas told reporters at an hour-long news conference at the Union League Club.

Emanuel campaign spokesman Pete Giangreco said any public safety plan that is “all police and doesn’t include mentoring, youth summer jobs and after school programming is no plan at all.”

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), the mayoral ally who chairs the City Council’s Budget Committee, argued that, “for all of Paul Vallas’ self-proclaimed budget expertise,” his policing plan would “get laughed out of City Council because there’s not a single concrete way that he would pay for any of this.”

“Paul Vallas’s habit of spending every dollar three times got Chicago into trouble, and this speech sounds a lot like the way he used to do business and would put us right back in a deep hole,” Austin was quoted as saying in an emailed statement released by the Emanuel campaign.

Vallas stressed the “carrots” he hopes to use to appease the police union would also come with a stick.

He supports civilian police review — without the power to hire and fire the police superintendent — and favors changes to a police contract that, the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability said, turns the “code of silence into official policy.”

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

The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies, merging police and fire headquarters, reducing police and detective areas from five to three and closing three district police stations: Wood, Belmont and Prairie.

That started a downward spiral that, coupled with attrition, forced the mayor to rely on runaway overtime when shootings and murders spiked.

In September 2016, the mayor reversed field, embarking on a two-year hiring surge that will add 970 additional officers by the end of this year.

More than a year into that surge, 14 of the city’s 22 police districts now have fewer beat cops than they did when the push was announced, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

Although the Emanuel administration’s aggressive outreach efforts have succeeded in recruiting African-Americans to sign up for repeated police exams, too many black candidates don’t bother showing up to take the exam.

To combat that problem, Vallas proposed creation of a “First Responders College,” presumably at City Colleges, that draws from a “pipeline” of 10,000 Chicago Public School students currently enrolled in ROTC programs.

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