Mayoral challenger outlines plan to ease police staffing shortage

Paul Vallas’ plan includes waiving the residency requirement for veteran officers as well as for new officers during their 18-month probationary period. He also wants to run the training academy night and day.

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Dozens of new Chicago Police Department officers take an oath during graduation at Navy Pier on March 29, 2022.

Dozens of new Chicago Police Department officers take an oath during graduation at Navy Pier in March.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping plan to fill the Chicago Police Department vacancies driving a relentless string of canceled days off.

Those cancellations have been blamed, in part, for a spike in police suicides.

Vallas, hoping to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot, outlined his dramatic revamp one day after police Supt. David Brown unveiled schedule changes aimed at giving overworked officers time off to unwind, decompress and spend time with their families.

A policy wonk who served Mayor Richard M. Daley as city revenue and budget director, Vallas has released the most detailed police deparmnet plan to date by any mayoral challenger.

It would:

• Waive Chicago’s residency requirement for veteran officers after 20 years on the job, and also for police recruits until they complete their 18-month probationary period.

• Hold police entrance exams twice a month online.

• Turn the police academy into a virtual conveyor belt with “night and day training” to churn out a record number of classes.

• Stop the mass exodus of police officers to suburban and out-of-state departments by treating their hiatus “like a leave of absence.”

• Streamline the process for qualified and experienced officers to transfer to CPD from other departments within and outside Illinois.

• Use retiree health care to entice retired officers with investigative experience to return to CPD and help detectives close cases.

• Staff what he calls a “legitimate” victim and witness protection program.

• Aggressively recruit members of the armed services and allow online admission testing for soldiers, both those on U.S. military bases and those stationed overseas.

• Create a permanent pipeline of “diversified, high-quality recruits” who will serve their home neighborhoods by “partnering with the seven high school military academies and 37 ROTC programs at Chicago public high schools and by opening the Chicago Police and Fire Training Academy at CPS to private school students citywide.

“Not mandating new officers be residents until permanently hired will expand the pool of applicants and exempting veteran officers will slow the exodus keeping experienced, valuable officers in the system,” Vallas wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.

Vallas helped deliver the eight-year police contract that ended the longest labor stalemate in Chicago history while serving as an unpaid consultant to the Fraternal Order of Police.

While pending proposals to offer a signing bonus and help with mortgage down payments could have “a significant long-term effect” toward reversing the mass exodus of officers, Vallas argued that the police department will “continue to lose officers and struggle to find enough replacements” until Brown and his entire leadership team are replaced.

“It is clear to everyone but the mayor that Brown and his leadership team have lost the confidence of not only the rank [and file], but most other elected officials, residents and business leaders through his failed public safety strategy and abuse of officers in deployment and work schedules,” Vallas said.

Every one of the declared mayoral challengers, including Vallas, has promised to fire Brown.

After Ald. Sophia King (4th) joined the mayoral race and joined the dump-Brown movement, Lightfoot reiterated her “total confidence” in the superintendent, citing “remarkable progress” under his watch.

“We’re down over 16% in homicides, almost 20% in shootings. You don’t get that without a determined, focused leader at the helm,” the mayor said then.

“Nobody’s taking a victory lap, least of all me. ... We’ve got to remain focused and diligent. But in the face of these remarkable accomplishments, it’s astounding that people would even question a change in leadership now.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago police Supt. David Brown at a July 2021 news conference in Lawndale.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago police Supt. David Brown at a July 2021 news conference in Lawndale.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Under Brown’s directive, most officers no longer will have more than one day off canceled each week. But they can still have two off days canceled during certain holiday periods, including the historically violent weekends around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

Those officers will also be guaranteed two consecutive days off in each of the department’s 13 “police periods” throughout the year, the superintendent said.

Officers assigned to tactical teams and specialized units are not covered by the new policy, but will be guaranteed a minimum of nine hours between shifts, the superintendent said.

The policy change was announced just one day after newly appointed Inspector General Deborah Witzburg released an analysis showing at least 1,190 CPD officers were scheduled to work at least 11 straight days during April and May — before the summer crunch.

That analysis was painstakingly conducted by manually reviewing attendance, assignment and overtime records. Witzburg argued that inadequate CPD record-keeping made it impossible to gauge the precise number of officers impacted.

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