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Chicago Police Department opts for go-slow approach to redeploy cops

Police told aldermen high-crime districts would get help as rookies graduate from the academy, but it’ll take years to get South and West Side districts to proper levels. A University of Chicago Crime Lab model called for a faster, more widespread approach using veteran cops, too.

Chicago police work the scene in the Englewood neighborhood in May.
Chicago police work the scene in the Englewood neighborhood in May.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago mayors have talked for decades about putting more cops where calls for service are the highest, only to drop the issue.

No one’s been willing to take the heat for redeploying cops.

Now Chicago police Supt. David Brown is laying that groundwork — but in a politically timid way that will take years to accomplish.

In briefings last week, Chief of Operations Brian McDermott and First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter told aldermen high-crime districts would get more manpower as rookies graduate from the academy and complete their 18-month probationary periods.

It would take about two years to get South and West Side police districts — where shootings and drug dealing are worst — the levels of manpower they need.

Sources said a model designed by the University of Chicago Crime Lab called for a more radical approach.

In a recently completed pro-bono study of police manpower, the U of C created a formula that includes calls for service, total violent crime in the area, population size and attrition of retiring officers.

The model called for reassigning veterans and rookies immediately, based on those and other factors. It concluded CPD has the manpower now to staff high-crime districts at proper levels, even after a recent wave of retirements.

The U of C Crime Lab declined to comment, referring questions to the Chicago Police Department.

In a statement, the department said it “created a staffing model to best safeguard public safety.” A class of recruits is in the training academy and the goal is to have new academy classes start in September and November, according to the statement.

Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown elbow bumps with Johnnetta Philpotts in South Shore on Monday, June 1, 2020.
Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown elbow-bumps Johnnetta Philpotts in South Shore in June 2020 after a weekend of protests, civil unrest and looting across the city. Philpotts had become emotional after officers clashed with hundreds of protesters outside a store that had been looted near East 71st Street and South Chappel Avenue.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Sources said Brown favors a go-slow approach that amounts to the political path of least resistance.

In a PowerPoint presentation distributed to aldermen, Brown’s approach is called “incremental change” in which “districts will not lose officers.”

“Units are ranked from ‘busiest’ to ‘least busy’ based on call-for-service data,” according to the presentation. “Additional officers are assigned to districts with the busiest units, considering relief factor and unit size.”

The department will continue assigning cops to districts with the busiest beats until “all units spend [less than] 60 percent of time on calls.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’d prefer to see the long-awaited reallocation of police manpower accomplished more quickly to stop the gang violence plaguing the West Side.

But Ervin is also a political realist.

“I understand that we can’t just rob Peter to pay Paul. We’ve got to pay everybody. Based on the manpower that comes out [of the police academy] — I can understand them doing it that way,” Ervin said.

“We’re still keeping up with a massive rate of attrition and some other things that have to occur. The department has a huge challenge on its hands. And we can’t just take officers totally out of one place and put them all in another place. It doesn’t solve our challenges overall.”

Ervin said districts like Harrison, Austin, Englewood and South Chicago have “traditionally been training districts.”

“I don’t have an issue with probationary officers or officers fresh out of their probationary period coming into the districts as long as they’re properly supervised and adequately trained,” he said.

A video posted to social media in April 2020 shows dozens of West Side residents in a heated confrontation with Chicago police officers at Madison Street and Springfield Avenue in the Harrison District.
A video posted to social media in April 2020 shows dozens of West Side residents in a heated confrontation with Chicago police officers at Madison Street and Springfield Avenue in the Harrison District.
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Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s assistant council floor leader, said it’s better to take the path of least resistance than to maintain the status quo.

“Whenever you siphon officers from one district and put ’em in another district, people are gonna cry foul and say, ‘Wait a second. What are you doing?’” Cardenas said.

Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, has pushed for changes in how beats are staffed since he was first elected in 1999. He said Chicago’s violence requires a “massive reallocation” of officers immediately — not a go-slow approach.

“We can’t wait two years with people dying left and right in the city. We’re taking a very soft, meek approach to a problem that needs major surgery,” Beale said.

He said officers should be pulled from the specialized citywide units Brown created and be placed in districts permanently.

“You’re moving those officers around to put fires out here and there. But it won’t have a longstanding impact. They have to be stationed. They have to get to know the community. You can’t keep moving them around. It’s a band-aid approach.”

Beale was equally angry about using rookies to solve the shortage.

“We need officers with experience and knowledge of what’s going on. It needs to be a combination. Don’t just give us all recruits,” he said.

If the go-slow approach was supposed to mitigate opposition from aldermen representing predominately white wards on the North and Northwest Sides, it didn’t work with Ald. Nick Sposato (38th).

He’s already concerned that officers assigned to the overnight watch must ride alone in the 28.5-square-mile Jefferson Park District “because we don’t have the resources to put two-man cars out.”

Sposato added: “225 [officers] isn’t enough for our district. It’s way too big. Way too much ground to cover. Now we’re at 180, 190.”

“I’m gonna have to have a talk with the superintendent and say, ‘You just can’t keep forgetting about us.’”

North Side Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said the Town Hall district he represents had “close to 400” officers when Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office. It’s down to 335 officers.

“We haven’t had a class since before COVID. And we’ve had retirements. And we’ve had strategic decisions by the superintendent to saturate high-crime areas. He has a new idea every couple months about citywide teams. They have been basically taking resources out of 19 and other safer districts,” the alderman said, referring to Town Hall by its CPD district number.

“How he rearranges the patrol people — that’s up to him,” Tunney said of Brown. “But we’ve been told we’re not getting less.”

Reallocating officers is a perennial issue in Chicago. One of the biggest hurdles to moving veterans from one district to another one is the union contract: based on seniority, cops have the ability to “bid out” of a district they don’t want to work in.

The last study of police manpower cost Chicago taxpayers $150,000, but it just gathered dust on a shelf. Alexander Weiss, former director of the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University, and Paul Evans, former commissioner of the Boston Police Department, found more squad cars should be added to beats where the number of those calls is the highest.

“If 50% of the calls came in the afternoon shift, 50% of your officers would work on the afternoon shift,” Weiss told the Sun-Times last fall. “Some of the beats have twice as many calls as others.”

Presentation to aldermen by the Chicago Police Department: