Suburbs, warmer cities step up efforts to lure cops away from Chicago
Some Chicago officers want to get away from a demoralized police department. Now, the law also lets them transfer up to 5 years of service to suburban pension plans.
Sean Jaycox, a third-generation Chicago police officer, was goofing around on his computer last winter. He started looking at Florida police departments that hire cops from other states but don’t make them go through a training academy again.
“I threw an application in for fun, and here I am now,” Jaycox says of his new job as a Fort Lauderdale cop.
“I’m only 24, no wife, no kids,” he says. “If there was a time to go and pursue something else, that was the time. It’s a little better quality of life. I like to golf and fish. I get to do that year-round. It’s 75 and sunny right now, and, as soon as I get off work, I’m going to sit at the pool. I’m beyond proud to have been with CPD. But the opportunity presented itself, and here I am.”
Police departments in sunshine-soaked states like Florida and Texas are stepping up efforts to aggressively recruit cops from Chicago, where morale has sunk, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot felt the need Thursday to publicly back Supt. David Brown amid a crisis of confidence among his command staff following the deadliest year in the city in a quarter century.
It isn’t just out-of-state departments trying to lure away Chicago police officers. So are departments in the suburbs, through “lateral” hiring programs. They save money by getting trained Chicago cops.
The Chicago Sun-Times surveyed selected suburban police agencies and found that 19 — more than half of those contacted — have hired away Chicago cops, a total of more than 50 in the past three years, with dozens more applications pending.
The Northbrook Police Department got 40 applications from Chicago officers for one pending job opening there, says Chris Kennedy, Northbrook’s police chief, a former high-ranking Chicago cop.
“Just from the people I’ve talked to, everyone is trying to get out if they can,” Kennedy says.
Fort Lauderdale is one of the more aggressive cities in other states recruiting officers from Chicago. It’s spending $60,000 over three months for a billboard along the Kennedy Expressway that went up Dec. 8. It features a police car on a beach with palm trees. “Wish you were here!” it reads. “We’re hiring.”
The marketing blitz has resulted in 42 applications from Chicago police officers over three months, according to Brandon Diaz, who heads the Fort Lauderdale police union, grew up in Chicago and is the son of a Chicago cop. Fort Lauderdale has hired five Chicago police officers in the last few months, Diaz says.
Suburban departments are benefiting from a state law that took effect last August, allowing Chicago cops to transfer up to five years of active service to a police pension system for suburban officers. That wasn’t possible in the past. Chicago cops have until the end of 2023 to do it.
“I certainly don’t want to deplete the ranks of the Chicago Police Department, but I don’t want to force them to stay in a job in which they are miserable,” says state Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, who sponsored the legislation.
Bolingbrook started seeking so-called lateral hires in December. The last time that suburb hired a Chicago cop was in 2004, Bolingbrook police Capt. Anthony Columbus says. The new state pension law will be a strong “recruiting tool,” he says.
To work in Bolingbrook, Chicago officers don’t have to go through the police academy again. But they have to do field training and go through an 18-month probationary period like any rookie cop, Columbus says. Like a rookie, their pay starts at $71,723. A new Chicago cop starts with a $53,340 salary that increases to $80,448 after 18 months.
Arlington Heights started hiring cops from the Chicago Police Department about 15 years ago.
“We affectionately refer to Arlington Heights as the 26th district,” says police Chief Nicholas Pecora, referring to Chicago’s former system of 25 police districts.
Nineteen former Chicago officers work in Arlington Heights, including five who made the move last year, four in 2020 and three in 2019.
According to a former Chicago cop who took a job in Arlington Heights in recent years, the suburbs were a welcome change.
“I’ve never had anyone swearing at me or threatening to beat me or hurt my family, nothing like that,” the officer says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I’ve never even felt at risk since I’ve been here, not that anything like that can’t happen.
“I grew up in the city and always wanted to be a Chicago cop. Then you see the flow of things, the sacrifices, days off canceled. It’s not worth it. It took me four years to sort out getting a health insurance card. And the administration wants to blame everything on you. However, the camaraderie as a Chicago cop is hard to rival. You go through a lot, so you make a lot of lifelong friends. The good with the bad, I guess.”
Other suburban police departments that have hired Chicago cops over the past three years include: Banockburn, one officer; Bridgeview, one; Cicero, one; Elmhurst, one; Harwood Heights, four; Lincolnshire, one; Lombard, five; Lyons, five, including two part-timers; Morton Grove, two; Mount Prospect, one; Niles, three; Northfield, one; Riverside, one; Riverwoods, one; Schaumburg, one; Skokie, seven; and Villa Park, two.
Slain Chicago cop Ella French was among Chicago police officers considering a move to the suburbs, according to officials in Cicero.
Last Aug. 7, French was shot to death during a South Side traffic stop, and her partner was shot and badly wounded.
About four days before she was gunned down, French had visited the Cicero Police Department, according to Ray Hanania, a spokesman for the town of Cicero, asking for the paperwork to transfer to Cicero and for background on hiring requirements and benefits.
French’s family couldn’t be reached.
In recent years, police departments across the country have seen a huge increase in retirements and faced difficulty recruiting to fill those vacancies. Nationally, police retirements rose 45% in 2020 over the year before, and resignations rose 18%, while hiring slid about 5%, according to the Police Executive Research Forum.
Asked about the exodus, Chicago police officials point to having “recently created a unit dedicated solely to retention and recruitment.”
The Chicago Police Department had about 13,000 sworn officers at the beginning of 2021. It now has about 11,900. Last year, about 720 cops retired, dwarfing the 560 retirements in 2020, 475 in 2019 and 339 in 2018. More than 175 other officers resigned last year without full retirement benefits or transferred to other police departments.
In recent years, rank-and-file Chicago cops have faced more accountability because of reforms stemming from police misconduct cases like the George Floyd and Laquan McDonald killings.
Arrests and street stops have nosedived. Chicago officers are coming under fire from police brass for that lack of activity. And, to make up for a lack of manpower, officers are being forced to work overtime, with many getting burned out.
John Catanzara, head of the police union that represents rank-and-file officers in Chicago, says he’s conflicted about cops leaving.
“My job is to look out for my members,” Catanzara says. “And if that means be the police somewhere else, so be it if they have better opportunities to raise a family and develop a career. It sucks for officers left behind. With the attrition rate of officers leaving as soon as they can, it’s leaving streets more bare and creating manpower issues.”
Catanzara says he refused recently when recruiters from a Texas department asked to hand out pamphlets at a Chicago Fraternal Order of Police meeting.
“I don’t want to deny anyone the opportunity to have a better life somewhere else, but I do have limits,” he says.