North Side Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is on the warpath about a drop in police manpower in a Town Hall District plagued by robberies and burglaries that runs contrary to a promise made in exchange for his vote for the largest property tax increase in Chicago history.
In October 2015, Tunney was one of 35 aldermen to walk the tax plank and support a $588 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions and school construction.
At the time, he made it a point to tell his constituents what he got in exchange for that difficult vote: 30 additional police officers and a promise that a Town Hall district that had 468 police officers a few months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, only to lose 30 percent of them would have a minimum of 376 officers going forward.
Now, the latest staffing report shows just 352 officers in a busy district that covers Wrigley Field, Boys Town and thriving commercial and entertainment strips crowded with bars and restaurants.
That’s why Tunney is burning the phone lines to police headquarters and the mayor’s office and urging his constituents to do the same.
“It’s unacceptable…I hear from our residents that they don’t feel comfortable walking down the streets at night. Part of it is the perception. But the reality is, we’re way too high on robberies and burglaries. They’re some of the highest [rates] in the whole city,” Tunney said.
“We have probably the largest [number of] visitors and tourists — whether it’s Wrigley Field or Halsted Street. ….We need resources on the weekends. Late nights, wee hours of the morning on Friday, Saturday and Sunday need to be covered. That is when our crime spikes. Statistics really require more coverage on the entertainment details.”
Tunney said he talked to Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Friday about the alarming drop in officers and was promised “more resources by May.”
“He has made a private commitment to me that I will be happy with the number. We’re not gonna be negotiating in the press on this one,” the alderman said.
“I know the superintendent is a trustworthy man of his word person. I look forward to bringing more recruits into the 19th.”
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Johnson talked to Tunney Friday and, “We are all in agreement about the need to add more officers throughout the city, given recent retirements and transfers.”
That’s why Emanuel’s 2018 budget includes the final year of a two-year plan to hire 970 additional officer over and above attrition, Guglielmi said.
“As part of that effort, new officers were deployed just last week, including to the [Town Hall] district. Every district will continue to get new officers in the months ahead through 2019,” Guglielmi wrote in an email.
Emanuel 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.
Since then, the number of police officers assigned to the Town Hall district has dropped by 30 percent – from 468 officers to 352 today.
Tunney made it clear he’s not accusing the mayor of breaking the promise made in exchange for the property tax vote.
He simply believes the numbers have gone up and down and they’re down again — by 31 officers since last May.
“It goes in and out based on promotions, based on new hires, transfers and such. It’s a moving target,” Tunney said.
“What are we getting — 1,000 net new officers over a two-year period? We need them in the 19th District.”
At a time when Johnson has promised to revive Chicago’s moribund community policing program, Tunney also stressed the need for, what he called “beat integrity.”
“We need a consistent workforce. People need to know their beats, the ins-and-outs of the entertainment detail, what’s happening on Halsted,” the alderman said.
“Having a lot of turnover — whether or not that’s an issue for the police department – it’s an issue for our community and people knowing what their beats look like. Our hope is to keep that a firm number and train them, get them involved in the community. Get them to know their beats, know their businesses and foster that kind of genuine relationship that, I believe, improves public safety.”