Police academy to churn out conveyor belt of classes to fill 877 sworn police vacancies

By July 31, 640 Chicago Police officers already had put in their retirement papers this year. Budget Director Susie Park told aldermen on Monday she expects that attrition rate to rise to 725 officers by year’s end.

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Chicago police recruits in a classroom in 2020 as they were welcomed back by then-Supt. David Brown.

Chicago Police Department recruits in July 2020.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Department’s training academy will churn out a virtual conveyor belt of recruits — with monthly classes October through December and all of next year — to fill 877 sworn vacancies triggered, in part, by an avalanche of police retirements, top mayoral aides said Monday.

By July 31, 640 Chicago police officers already had put in their retirement papers. Budget Director Susie Park told the City Council’s Committee on Budget and Government Operations she expects that attrition rate to rise to 725 officers by year’s end.

Already, the department is struggling to fill 1,066 vacancies — 877 of them among sworn officers. The other 189 are civilian positions.

That’s even after Mayor Lori Lightfoot helped balance her 2021 budget by eliminating 614 police vacancies.

“So overall from 2020, we’re gonna be down 1,600 officers,” said Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former longtime chairman of the Council’s Police Committee.

“These numbers are very disturbing, especially with all of the crime issues and carjackings and everything that we’re dealing with in Chicago. To drop almost 1,600 officers is very disturbing. Hopefully, we can turn this ship around.”

Referring to the paltry response to the recently-administered police entrance exam, Beale said, “How do we expect to get our 1,600 officers back if we’re only getting a small pool of people taking the test?”

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said only 2,900 candidates signed up for the last police exam. The wash-out rate is 90%, he said.

“We go through ten to get one that we hire. That’s fact,” he said.

Park said the police academy was “running classes to try to keep up with attrition” until a surge of COVID-19 cases forced the city to “stop training for a few months.”

“There was a hire surge. There was an intent to keep up with attrition and a plan to do that. And then, we fell behind due to COVID. That is coming back in place for next year,” Park said.

“There are classes already in the academy now. I believe there’s four. And then, we have three more planned between October and December. … Between robust recruitment, access to testing and then, the plan is to hold a class every month. We’re gonna work on all three prongs … to keep up with attrition.”

Sposato said four classes “tells us nothing” without knowing the size of each class.

“If we have four classes of 150, that is something. If we have four classes of 40 or 50, like my colleague said, it’s somewhat disturbing,” he said.

Anastasia Walker, executive director of the city’s Office of Public Safety Administration, said the avalanche of police retirements that has triggered a record number of police vacancies is not unique to Chicago.

“The New York Police Department has lost 5,300 people to retirement. Atlanta is short 400 police officers. Portland has gone from hiring 155 people to 30 people. Seattle has gone from hiring 119 people to 44 people,” Walker said.

“In addition, when you look at police officers nationwide, 10% can go and retire today. So, not only are we facing something that a lot of law enforcement agencies are facing across the country. We’re also competing for the same pool. But with testing and recruitment, I think we’re gonna be able to put a dent in it.”

Sposato branded the number of exhausted and demoralized police officers headed for greener pastures a “national crisis.”

He said Walker’s claim that 10% of police officers nationwide are eligible for retirement may actually be too optimistic.

“I think it’s way higher,” Sposato said, noting police officers are eligible to retire at age 50 after 20 years on the job.

Monday’s subject-matter hearing focused on city spending and revenues in general and the CPD’s $1.7 billion budget in particular.

Under questioning, Park reiterated what she told the Sun-Times earlier this month. She expects CPD to spend $150 million on overtime this year — even though Lightfoot made it a top priority to rein it in — because of the record number of police vacancies.

Through July 31, the city already had spent $86 million on police overtime.

With Labor Day weekend approaching, Beale asked the budget director whether she was aware of plans to keep a lid on overtime and avoid canceling days off over the long holiday weekend.

“It did not come from me. I am not aware of any [such] order,” she said.

Hours later, the Bureau of Patrol issued an “emergency mobilization” order canceling days off over the holiday weekend.

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