The Chicago Police Department will launch a two-year hiring blitz that will add 970 police officers to confront a 50 percent spike in homicides and improve detectives’ ability to solve crimes, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
The hiring surge — the biggest since the mid-1980s — marks a turnaround for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has relied on police overtime in a failed attempt to stop the cycle of gang violence on the streets.
Over the next two years, the police department will add 516 patrol officers, 92 field-training officers, 112 sergeants, 50 lieutenants and 200 detectives.
The first-year cost will be $138,000 per officer including salary, benefits and supervision. So the 970 additional officers will carry a price tag of almost $134 million.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said he has no idea how Emanuel plans to pay for the extra cops.
“The mayor has assured me that he will ensure that I get the resources I’m asking for at the end of the day. … He has assured me that he’ll get it done. Specifics of it, you’ll have to get from the budgeting office,” Johnson said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
“When I sat down as superintendent, one of the first things everybody asked me was, ‘Did we have enough police officers?’ We did an overall analysis of the department. … I took a real hard look at it and this is what I think we need to make Chicago safer. … It’s going to cost. But there’s no price for the safety of this city.”
Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins was no more specific about how the mayor plans to pay for it. He would only say the mayor has been “very clear that his priority in the budget is going to be public safety” and that whatever resources Johnson needs, he will get “without an increase in general revenue taxes” on sales, property or gasoline.
Emanuel has already raised property taxes by $838 million for police, fire and teacher pensions. He also imposed a first-ever garbage collection fee and slapped a 29.5 percent tax on water and sewer bills to save the largest of the city’s four employee pension funds.
The Sun-Times reported earlier this year that the police department spent a record $116 million on overtime in 2015 — up 17 percent from the previous year — to mask a manpower shortage that has mushroomed under Emanuel.
Police retirements have outpaced hiring. The two-year hiring blitz will essentially return the police department to the staffing levels of 2011, when Emanuel took office.
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo has branded the mounting overtime unhealthy, unsustainable and a recipe for officer burnout. On Tuesday, Johnson pretty much agreed.
“You don’t want to utilize overtime to the point that you burn your officers out. We have to be mindful of that. We have to be mindful of their mental health and physical health,” Johnson said.
The police department has an authorized strength of 12,500 officers. There are currently 468 sworn vacancies, even before an expected surge of retirements triggered by changes in health-care contributions tied to the police contract.
The ranks of detectives have dropped precipitously from 1,252 in 2008 to 922 today, according to a recent analysis by Reuters. That helps explain why Chicago’s homicide clearance rate is among the lowest in the country.
Emanuel campaigned for his first term on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, then revised the pledge after taking office by saying he would add 1,000 more “cops on the beat.”
More than half of those cops came from disbanded special units. The other half were primarily officers working desk jobs reassigned to street duty.
The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies without filling them, and closing three police stations and two area detective headquarters.
When shootings and murders spiked, Emanuel used overtime to tamp down the violence. Until now, City Hall has viewed OT as a flexible and cost-effective substitute for police hiring because the city doesn’t have to bear the cost of pensions and benefits for new officers.
The new officers will be drawn from the 8,100 men and women who passed a recent police exam. After an outreach campaign, 71 percent of those candidates are minorities. Another exam is planned for late next year to ensure the hiring pool continues to mirror the city’s population, Johnson said.
Chicago Police officers spend six months in the police academy before they hit the streets for a probationary period that lasts a year. To get reinforcements on the street as quickly as possible, Johnson said he’s drafting plans to shift the police academy at 1300 W. Jackson into high-gear.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on the plan, but what I can tell you is this: When we roll this out, we are going to have the personnel that we need, the staffing that we need and we’ll have the capacity to be able to handle that. There are different things being put in place to get to that end,” Johnson said.
Ultimately, Emanuel wants to replace the outdated training facility with a modern academy near the 911 Center at 141 W. Madison. The police and fire departments would share the new academy.
Meantime, Johnson said he plans to stay the course. He has no plans to restore the roving citywide units disbanded by his predecessor, Garry McCarthy.
“Right now, resources are dedicated to the area deputy chiefs. …That’s adequate for having a group of officers that we can move at a moment’s notice,” Johnson said.
“We’ve gotten really good at re-deploying. It used to take an hour or so to re-deploy officers. But because they’re under the direction of the area deputy chiefs, we can get them moved in like five to 10 minutes. That’s a good way to utilize our resources. I don’t see right now changing it.”
The last massive police hiring years were in 1986 when 950 cops were added to the city’s payroll and the mid-1990s when about 1,000 cops were hired with help from then-President Bill Clinton’s crime bill over a three-year period.
“I can remember back in the 1990s we had a hiring surge of this magnitude,” Johnson said. “I came on in ’88. Right before I came on, there was a hiring surge, too.”
Last week, Emanuel acknowledged it won’t matter how many more police officers the city hires if the ones Chicago has don’t get out of their defensive crouch.
Johnson agreed adding, “Each officer took an oath to protect this city and that’s what I expect them to do.”
But he also acknowledged that in his 28 years as a Chicago Police officer, he has never seen “the level of disrespect for police officers” that exists today.
“Law enforcement all over the country is being scrutinized like that. Let’s be honest about it. They don’t want to be the next viral video that comes out. They have families to support and careers to think about,” he said.
“My challenge is to keep encouraging them and to let them know that the administration has their backs.”