Mayoral challenger Sophia King unveils plan to reverse spike in violent crime

The City Council member would create a reserve of 1,000 retired Chicago police officers handling “crucial, but nondangerous duties,” add 200 detectives, use “crime-fighting drones,” and have officers work 10-hour days, four days per week.

SHARE Mayoral challenger Sophia King unveils plan to reverse spike in violent crime
Chicago mayoral candidate Ald. Sophia King (4th) discusses public safety and crime in the city during a news conference Thursday outside the Chicago Police Department 1st District station on the South Side.

Chicago mayoral candidate Ald. Sophia King (4th) discusses public safety and crime in the city during a news conference Thursday outside the Chicago Police Department 1st District station on the South Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Create a “Chicago Reserve” composed of 1,000 retired Chicago police officers to handle “crucial, but non-dangerous duties.”

Have officers work 10 hours a day, four days a week — to get “more boots on the ground” and give officers “guaranteed multiple days off in a row every week.”

Bolster “grossly understaffed” detective ranks by 200 — with a wave of promotions and by hiring back retired detectives — to solve more murders and shootings and bolster a homicide clearance rate that remains the “worst in the nation.” 

Embrace technology by adding police observation devices and using “drones as first responders.” 

Those are among mayoral challenger Sophia King’s big plans to confront the spike in violent crime — plans far beyond her previously stated vow to fire Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown and hire a replacement “with Chicago roots who is committed to expanding community policing in every neighborhood.”

The crime-fighting checklist unveiled Thursday shows the retiring 4th Ward alderperson has thought long and hard about ways to bolster neighborhood police protection, rebuild trust between citizens and police and stop the exodus of officers — nearly 1,000 retirements already this year.

King’s proposed “Chicago Reserve” of 1,000 retired officers, combined with filling 1,600 vacancies over two years, would set the stage to accomplish her goal of “distributing officers more equitably.”

Last year, the University of Chicago Crime Lab called for reassigning veteran and rookie officers immediately, based on a formula it created that includes calls for service, total violent crime in an area, population size and attrition of retiring officers.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Brown chose a slower approach, saying high-crime districts would get more manpower only as rookies graduate from the academy and complete their 18-month probation.

It would take about two years to get South and West Side police districts — where shootings and drug-dealing are worst — the staffing they need.

King vowed to tackle the problem head-on. Besides that retiree reserve corps, King would add 1,600 new hires over two years and disband citywide task forces she branded a “disaster,” returning those 875 officers to the 22 police districts.

The reserve officers would be armed, handlng “crucial, but nondangerous” duties, she said.

“You can use them during surge opportunities during the summer, for festivals, for other events along the lakefront, on the beaches. There’s also some responsibilities on the desk that require officers. That frees up more officers to patrol the communities,” King told the Sun-Times.

Officers now have a five-day week. Shifting to a four-day workweek is intended to bolster rock-bottom police morale, stemming a flood of departures.

To date, 693 officers have begun their six months of training — far from enough to keep pace with the 949 retirements through Sept. 30 this year. There were 973 retirements in all of 2021, and 625 in 2020.

The police department now has 11,649 sworn officers, down from 13,353 before Lightfoot took office.

“It would resolve a couple issues: No. 1, police being overworked and not having any time off. It would guarantee time off. Also, it would put more officers in communities immediately — up to 50%” more, King said.

Lightfoot and Brown have said the homicide clearance rate is improving. King said she doesn’t buy it, and it’s why she wants to add 200 detectives.

“What do they say? Figures don’t lie. I won’t repeat the rest,” she said, pegging the clearance rate at less than 17%.

“They’re using cases from years ago to add to the clearance rate now. That’s just not how it’s done,” King said.

As chair of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, King helped pressure Lightfoot to launch a plan allowing mental health professionals to respond to nonviolent situations, which comprise more than half of all 911 calls.

Her new plan calls for rapidly expanding those response programs, creating a “24-hour diversion center” and developing “additional pre-arrest diversions for substance abuse, mental health and extreme poverty.”

She also said she wants to create an Office of Violence Prevention and combine city funds with private contributions to make a $200 million-a-year commitment to violence intervention programs. Young people at highest risk would be offered up to $600 a week to entice them to move “from the streets to jobs.” 

King’s proposal to use crime-fighting technology as a force-multiplier is one of King’s more intriguing ideas.

It comes as veteran officers complain new policies on vehicle chases and foot pursuits have severely limited their ability to pursue and apprehend suspects.

“In cases that are too dangerous or could be harmful to residents or the police, you could deploy drones, perhaps to take a picture of an offender to make sure we know who this is without putting other folks in harm’s way,” King said.

“Body-worn cameras come with the technology that, when you pull your gun from your holster, your camera automatically turns on. Some cities choose to use it. Some cities don’t. We need to choose to use it,” King said.

“Oftentimes, officers say they forgot to turn on their camera. This will automatically come on. Those are technologies we need to employ.”

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