319 more cops to be moved from desk duty to streets

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to move more police officers off desk duty and onto the streets in response to the city’s violence. Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Police Department will soon move hundreds more officers out of desk jobs and onto the streets to battle the city’s surging violence — the latest in a series of transfers of cops from administrative jobs to patrol in recent years under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The department is reassigning 319 sworn officers from administrative positions to boost manpower on the streets without breaking the bank, said Adam Collins, a spokesman for the mayor. Those sworn officers include nurses, detention aides, property custodians and others whose jobs will be filled by lower-paid civilians, Collins said.

“The plan was borne out of a simple question the mayor asked about officers working in administrative functions: ‘Do you need a gun, a badge and arrest powers to do this job?’ ” Collins said.

“If the answer is no, the officers will be replaced with civilians and deployed into neighborhoods, policing our streets and fighting gun violence, which is how they were trained in the first place.”

Dean Angelo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he welcomed having more officers working alongside those already on patrol as long as the department is not eliminating positions protected under the union contract.

He said the department should encourage retired officers to apply for the civilian positions that are opening up. “They have the experience and they can be trusted,” Angelo said.

On Tuesday, Emanuel will unveil a city budget that includes a $500 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions and school construction, as well as a first-ever garbage-collection fee.

Saddled with a $30 billion pension crisis that’s reduced Chicago’s bond rating to junk status, the department’s moving officers from desk duty to the street is a cheaper alternative than hiring hundreds of new officers at a cost of $100,000 in salary and benefits per cop. And it might be the only way to appease aldermen whose constituents are clamoring for more officers to reduce the spike in killings, shootings and gang violence plaguing the city.

Since the mayor took office in 2011, the police department has previously shifted at least 770 sworn police officers from desk jobs to patrol work.

Of the 319 desk jockeys now selected for reassignment, the department will put 154 of them in beat cars in districts where they currently hold administrative jobs.

Sixty more will be shifted to six new “area saturation teams” of 10 officers each. Two teams will be assigned to the department’s north, central and south areas. They can be sent anywhere in those areas where violent crime is spiking.

The remaining 105 officers will work in “impact zones” — typically six-block areas with major violence problems, officials said. The zones are located in 12 police districts. They said those full-time officers will help curb overtime now being paid to officers who volunteer to work in the zones.

Currently, there are 12,500 sworn officers in the department.

Robert Tracy, the police department’s chief of crime strategy, said desk officers go through in-service training — including firearms training — several times a year. Also, many of them have been on the streets in voluntary overtime initiatives, Tracy said.

“They will help with the crime-reduction strategies we already have in place,” he said.

The sworn officers will move out of their desk jobs gradually, as civilians are hired to replace them, Tracy said — a process he said could extend into next year.

And the department will transfer the responsibility of hiring and supervising crossing guards to the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication, Collins said. The city is currently filling about 100 crossing-guard vacancies with sworn officers, and another 22 sworn officers have been serving as supervisors for crossing guards — one per police district.

It’s expected that no sworn officers will be in those positions by the start of the next school year, Collins said.

In 2011, Emanuel campaigned on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding 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, declaring an end to what he called the annual “shell game” of budgeting for police jobs the city had no intention of filling.

When shootings and murders spiked and Chicago started making headlines as the nation’s murder capital, Emanuel used runaway overtime to tamp down the violence — to the tune of $100.3 million in 2013 and $95 million 2014.

Moving yet another round of officers from desk jobs to street duty is the only alternative to appease aldermen whose residents are clamoring for more officers to reduce the spike in homicides, shootings and gang violence that continues to plague Chicago.

The only surprise is that there are still hundreds of officers left performing functions that could be done by civilians.

The last two times the mayor announced similar transfers at the behest of Inspector General Joe Ferguson, the assumption was he and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy had combed the Police Department for every last one of those desk jockeys.

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