Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is resurrecting his stalled plan to prevent ugly mob attacks plaguing River North and downtown Chicago — and other neighborhood commercial strips — without stretching the Police Department’s budget any more than it already is.
Reilly is trying again, five years after his plan to let moonlighting police officers be paid for by local merchants went nowhere.
“It’s the exact same ordinance I introduced a couple of years ago to create an `off-duty cop’ program where chambers of commerce or others could hire back off-duty cops to supplement our beat cops,” Reilly wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.
“We were really close to making it happen. But the lawyers at CPD balked. I’m giving it another try.”
Reilly said he believes the resistance he got last time may have been tied to “contentious” contract talks with the Fraternal Order of Police.
The current police contract expired June 30, 2016. This time around, FOP President Kevin Graham is complaining that negotiations are moving at a snail’s pace, hinting strongly that Mayor Rahm Emanuel may be slow-walking the talks to get past the 2019 election.
The police academy is churning out monthly classes to deliver on Emanuel’s two-year plan to hire 970 additional officers.
Reilly said he’s “thrilled” about that but, “It’s going to take some time to get there” and he’s not willing to wait.
“Supplementing beat cops with off-duty OT officers can help bridge the gap until we get those 1,000 officers deployed. I’m simply trying to be creative in helping CPD get more resources, appreciating the city’s budget constraints,” he wrote.
Once again, Reilly wants to let local chambers of commerce, business improvement districts and “special service area” taxing districts hire off-duty Chicago Police officers to supplement regular police patrols.
Currently, Chicago Police officers are permitted to wear their uniforms only when they are working for the city or moonlighting for the CTA or Navy Pier.
The 2013 version of Reilly’s ordinance would have allowed off-duty officers to wear their uniforms while being paid $30 an hour by local businesses to work a minimum of six-hour shifts.
The new version is “silent on the uniform issue,” Reilly said, noting that “those details would need to be addressed by CPD leadership.”
“I have no strong feelings about these officers being in uniform or not. I’m just interested in getting these trained professionals back on the street to supplement our on-duty officers,” he wrote.
“A lot of officers moonlight on security jobs for extra money. I’d rather have those officers improving neighborhood safety, rather than working security at jewelry stores and warehouses. This program would be open to commercial corridors across the city. It could be a great benefit to any neighborhood.”
The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on Reilly’s plan.
Last summer, Reilly made an “urgent request” for more overnight police patrols on the lakefront trail, the downtown Riverwalk and in Streeterville after a 25-year-old Lawndale woman was shot and killed.
Reilly also requested improved lighting, additional surveillance cameras and the overnight shutdown during warm weather months of an underpass at Ohio and Lake Shore Drive used to access the beach, the Lakefront Trail and Navy Pier.
This year, he pleaded for more officers after a long and sultry Memorial Day weekend that saw Chicago Police struggle to control large groups of teenagers near Water Tower Place and along the lakefront.
Earlier this week, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) followed Reilly’s lead by demanding that the city seal off the underpass at Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive during overnight hours to prevent “illegal parties” at Lake Shore Park.
On Thursday, First Deputy Police Supt. Anthony Riccio said closing the Chicago Ave. underpass is “probably a good idea.”
Riccio also claimed that the problem of marauding groups of young people intimidating downtown shoppers is either under control — or will be, thanks to “our strategy for the next 10 days” that includes July 4th weekend.
“On Michigan Avenue, you’re gonna see officers, probably on every corner. They’re gonna be looking for individuals who are down there to cause trouble and wreak havoc,” Riccio said.
“Downtown is a beautiful place. We put a lot of resources down there to make it safe for families [and] people who come to our city to enjoy the beautiful things here. We’re not gonna let thugs come down there and take over downtown . . . I’m confident we’re gonna be able to control it. And quite frankly, if we can’t, we’re gonna start locking people up.”