City Council committee to hold hearings on police suicides, minority hiring
Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro calls police suicide their “single greatest cause of death” and says Chicago can learn from Los Angeles , which went two years without an officer suicide.
The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety will hold hearings on two pressing issues that threaten to undermine security: police suicides and minority hiring in the Chicago Police and Fire Departments.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said Tuesday he plans to summon Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck, the director of CPD’s Employee Assistance Program and Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady to talk about what more could be done to confront the “single greatest cause of death” among law enforcement officers.
Beck is the retired Los Angeles Police chief holding down the fort until Mayor Lori Lightfoot chooses a permanent replacement for fired Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Chicago has a lot to learn from the LAPD, which went nearly two years without an officer suicide, Taliaferro said.
“The L.A. Police Department has licensed, certified psychologists. They’re not just centrally-located. They’re also out in the districts talking to officers and having a continual relationship with officers. If there is an issue, these officers are more likely to come to them because of bonds that have already been formed,” Taliaferro said.
“One of their top priorities is not to strip an officer of police powers when that officer is experiencing some type of issue or mental health issue. Their goal is to make sure they’re treated. That takes away from the stigma of, if I go seek help, then I may possibly lose my police powers, my star and my ability to take care of my family.”
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the issues of officer suicide “literally keeps us up at night.”
But, he argued, much has changed to bolster the paltry three licensed clinicians, a staffing level heavily criticized in the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of CPD.
“Over the last two years, we’ve invested heavily in morale and wellness,” Guglielmi wrote in an email to the Sun-Times. The number of licensed clinicians is up to 11 (from 5), Guglielmi added, and peer support teams have been expanded to every police district. The department also has ensured that its chaplains’ ministry “has representation from every major religious denomination in the department.”
Guglielmi also pointed to a “You Are Not Alone” campaign aimed at encouraging officers to seek help and assuring them they would not be punished or ostracized if they do.
Last year, CPD was reeling from an epidemic of suicides, with seven officers taking their own lives in just a few months. The pace has slowed somewhat, but the problem continues. Earlier this month, an off-duty detective died by suicide.
The upcoming hearings will also focus on the vexing issue of minority hiring in the police and fire departments.
Taliaferro said he was “shocked” to learn that out of 484 firefighters and paramedics hired most recently by CFD, fewer than 50 were African-American.
As for CPD, African-Americans actually lost ground during the two-year police hiring blitz that bolstered the force by more than 1,000 officers.
“Ten years from now, our fire department and police department will be predominantly white, as it already is. But the numbers will just grow greater if we don’t do something about it now,” Taliaferro said.
Former Police Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) reiterated his longstanding claim that background checks, credit histories and psychological exams administered to police candidates are the “tools used to weed out and disqualify” minorities.
Taliaferro said he’s living proof.
“I consider myself to be completely sane. ... But I even failed the psychological exam. And I went on to have a very successful career coming on the police department, with a high school diploma and leaving with a law degree,” he said.
Guglielmi said CPD will continue its aggressive community outreach to build a police force that “reflects the diversity of” the city it serves — both overall and in its supervisory ranks.
“We’ve also made enhancements to the promotional process by eliminating merit-based appointments so that testing and advancement is fair and consistent across all ranks,” he said.
“This will lead to a culture where regular promotional tests are offered and they will rely less on written examination and more on a combination of written and oral interviews conducted by national experts from outside Chicago.”
Taliaferro has argued it makes no sense to abolish a tool used to diversify CPD’s supervisory ranks at a time when it is trying to rebuild public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.