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847 CPD vacancies under microscope to chip away at $1.25 billion city budget shortfall

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has, so far, resisted the movement to de-fund the police But that doesn’t mean the Chicago Police Department’s $1.7 billion budget will be spared.

New officers at a graduation ceremony at Navy Pier in 2017.
A Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony at Navy Pier in 2017.
Getty Images

The Chicago Police Department has 847 sworn vacancies that could be reduced to chip away at a $1.25 billion shortfall in the city’s 2021 budget, aldermen were told Thursday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has, so far, resisted the movement to de-fund the police that has been sweeping the nation since the death of George Floyd. Chicago is the nation’s largest city to give the cold shoulder to those demands after police cuts announced in New York City and Los Angeles.

But that doesn’t mean the Chicago Police Department’s $1.7 billion budget will be spared from the budget ax.

During a joint meeting of the City Council’s Budget and Public Safety committees focused exclusively on CPD spending, Budget Director Susie Park told aldermen there are 847 sworn police vacancies and all are under the microscope to chip away at the shortfall.

“That’s part of the discussion we’re having. What is the right number of officers? What do we need to meet operations? We’re looking at everyone’s vacancies, to be honest. CPD is no different,” Park said.

Former Mayor Rahm 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.

That started a downward spiral that, coupled with attrition, forced the mayor to rely on runaway overtime when shootings and murders spiked.

In September 2016, Emanuel reversed field, embarking on a two-year hiring surge that added 1,000 additional officers.

The stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus virtually shut down the police academy. So far this year, there have been just two classes, one of 50 recruits, one of 40. Two more are planned this year — not enough to keep pace with the 464 retirements already this year.

Yet another sore thumb is police overtime, which ballooned to $139.5 million last year.

Under pressure from Lightfoot, Police Supt. David Brown ordered all overtime to be approved by deputy chiefs and above.

Park acknowledged that edict went out the window after the civil unrest that devolved into two devastating rounds of looting.

Overtime now is on pace to hit $140 million this year.

Ken Williams, newly-appointed executive director of the City Council’s Office of Financial Analysis, surprised aldermen with a proposal to cut $55 million from the police budget.

It would eliminate such treasured police perks as the uniform allowance, tuition reimbursement and education, specialty pay, supervisor quarterly pay and reimbursement for physical exams.

Williams also suggested hiring civilians to fill police administrator jobs and officer liability insurance to reduce police settlements. That change would require changes in state law.

But Park dismissed those savings as unrealistic — at least for the foreseeable future, because they involve “contractual items,” and the recently-ratified contracts with Chicago firefighters and police supervisors preserve those perks.

With homicides up 50 percent from a year ago, any effort to reduce police vacancies is almost certain to meet heavy resistance.

“You’re looking at the potential for a lot of vacancies in district law enforcement. … We have to figure out some way to fill these vacancies back in the districts,” said West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

South Side Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) added: “With all of the violence breaking out on the South and the West Sides of the city — in my universe, we’re not asking for de-funding. We’re asking for more” police.

But Harris accused CPD of wasting millions by funding violence prevention organizations that have “no impact” whatsoever.

Former Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th) complained police officers were “still being pulled from districts to move them to other districts,” including downtown. That kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul “should not continue to happen.”

“Yesterday alone, we only had about, maybe if we’re lucky, a dozen officers working in one of our districts on the Northwest Side. … We need to put personnel where they belong. All it takes is one time, one issue, one instance where [constituents says], `Where are the police officers?’ “ Reboyras said.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Susan Lee told aldermen the Lightfoot administration is exploring a “co-responder model” in which police officers and social workers respond together to domestic violence and mental health calls.

North Side Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) was unimpressed.

“You’ve got people wanting to de-fund the police by 75 percent. You’ve got folks who want more cops in their community. What we all want is public safety for residents of Chicago and I don’t think we’re really getting to the meat of that. When are we gonna have that conversation?” Hadden said.

Many aldermen were disappointed that the Chicago Police Department was not represented at Thursday’s hearing. Budget Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) said that’s because the hearing was on the numbers. It did not focus on police operations.