CPD officers deserve signing bonus, help buying homes, City Council member proposes

Recruits with no law enforcement experience would get a $5,000 bonus. Transfers with experience would get double that. “We’re in a crisis. They’re running for the exits,” said Ald. Matt O’Shea. “We have to try to do something.”

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New Chicago Police Department officers take an oath during their graduation at Navy Pier on March 29, 2022.

New Chicago Police Department officers take an oath during their graduation at Navy Pier in March.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago police officers could receive $10,000 in down payment assistance toward the purchase of their first home — or a signing bonus for joining the force — under an incentive aimed at stopping a massive police exodus.

The Chicago Police Department has 11,680 sworn officers on the street — 1,633 fewer officers than before Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office. Lightfoot balanced her pandemic-ravaged budget partly by eliminating 614 police vacancies.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) is determined to stop the bleeding.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, he plans to introduce an ordinance earmarking $3 million from the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to help officers buying their first home, and $7.5 million to pay those signing bonuses.

A $5,000 bonus would go to recruits with no law enforcement experience. That jumps to $10,000 for officers transferring from other law enforcement agencies.

“We’re in a crisis. They’re running for the exits. They’re retiring early. ... They’re going right next door. They’re going to Cicero. They’re going to Oak Lawn. They’re going to Park Ridge,” O’Shea said.

“When you look at the numbers of people who are applying, people who are showing up to physically take the test, the numbers are horrible. ... In the last two years, we’ve lost more than 1,600 officers … and they hired less than 600.”

O’Shea represents a Far Southwest Side ward where scores of Chicago police officers live. He is among the City Council’s most outspoken police champions.

Last month, he introduced an ordinance that would extend to the spouses of police officers, firefighters and paramedics who die by suicide the same survivors’ benefits afforded to the husbands and wives of those who die in the line of duty.

The proposed homebuyers assistance and signing bonus are yet another way to demonstrate to police officers the city does, in fact, have their backs.

Ald. Matt O’Shea speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting on March 23, 2022.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), shown at a Chicago City Council meeting in March, says the city must do something to keep police officers from leaving the force.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

O’Shea knows he’s grasping at straws. The real problems, he believes, are restrictions on foot and vehicular chases, which have emboldened criminals and tied officers’ hands, and the relentless string of 12-hour days and canceled days off, which deny officers the work/life balance they and their families crave.

“You’ve got a young police officer. She’s got two kids. And she finds out on Thursday that her weekend is canceled? This is putting a tremendous emotional strain on officers and their families,” he said.

“I wish I had a better answer for that. But until police officers feel that they’re being supported — by the city, by elected officials, by community leaders and communities in general — I think we’re gonna continue to see this. And we’ve got to try something to stem the tide. These police officers and their families need to feel that they’re being supported.”

In 2017, Mayor Rahm Emanuel set aside $3 million to provide forgivable, $30,000 loans to police officers and firefighters, hoping to stabilize high-crime neighborhoods.

It was a bust. Only a handful signed up, even after the City Council broadened the umbrella of eligible recipients and expanded the geographic area where homes could be purchased.

O’Shea’s version has few strings attached.

To qualify for $10,000 in down payments assistance on a home located anywhere in Chicago, the officer would simply have to be a first-time home buyer.

That assistance would be a loan, with $2,000 forgiven every year. If an officer leaves before five years are up, they would repay the balance.

An officer choosing the cash bonus instead would have to make the same five-year commitment.

Even with the incentives, O’Shea acknowledged it will probably take years to fill all the police vacancies. Meanwhile, technology must help fill the gap.

Toward that end, his ordinance would mandate that for every license plate reader or crime-fighting POD camera purchased by the local alderperson with “menu” money, the city would have to purchase another camera or license plate reader for that ward. (Each City Council member gets $1.8 million in such money each year to spend as they see fit on projects in their wards.)

“Because we have less eyes on the street, less police officers, we’ve got to rely more on technology,” he said.

The wife of a veteran Chicago police officer said the bonus and down payment help are nice. But, she added, the mass officer exodus will continue until residents and political leaders stop “villainizing” cops and officers are “treated humanely,” with predictable schedules and a sustainable crime-fighting strategy.

“They’re getting emails at 10 or 11 o’clock at night saying their days off are canceled. It’s absolutely absurd. It’s no way to treat people. They’re treated like they’re not mothers, fathers, sons, husbands, wives. These are people with lives, with families, with children. And they don’t treat them that way,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution against her husband.

“This is no way for families to live. ... The good people are absolutely not gonna stick around for this. ... There’s none of them left on the street. They can’t leave fast enough. ... This is a state of emergency.”

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