In debate over where cops should patrol in Chicago, ‘no one wants to lose’

As aldermen complain they are losing beat cops to new citywide units to fight crime, the Sun-Times has learned a study is underway seeking a more scientific way to allocate officers in the city’s 22 police districts.

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Chicago police officers in the summer mobile patrol participate in a community cleanup on the South Side in July. Aldermen say such citywide units have drained cops from their police districts.

Chicago police officers in the summer mobile patrol take part in a community cleanup on the South Side in July. Aldermen say such citywide units have drained cops from their police districts.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

As about 1,000 cops have been posted this year on new citywide teams to combat gun crime, looting and rioting, Chicago Police officials are trying to figure out the best way to staff the city’s 22 police districts that aldermen say are being drained of manpower.

On Monday, police Supt. David Brown announced he was adding 200 officers to a 300-officer community-safety team created in July. In addition, nearly 270 cops are on a critical-response team focused on downtown crime and crowd control across the city and about 250 cops are on a summer mobile patrol that’s being extended into November. The police force currently employs about 13,000 officers.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announces the launch of the summer mobile patrol on July 10 in Woodlawn.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announces the launch of the summer mobile patrol on July 10 in Woodlawn.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Criminologists say it’s a smart move for Brown to deploy citywide units to fight crime in a year when murder is up sharply. But some aldermen say they’re hearing complaints that citizens aren’t having their calls answered on time in their police districts as more cops move onto those citywide units.

And some of those same aldermen are looking forward to the results of a new study that’s supposed to help the police department allocate district officers in a more scientific way.

“There will be winners and there will be losers. And no one wants to lose,” says Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus. “So over the years, the best thing has been just to leave it alone and to create these units where you can drop somebody in for a period of time to tamp down what was happening. That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“Even though it is probably in the city’s best interest to make these changes, the political will has not been there to make it happen,” Ervin said.

Manpower study underway

A realignment of manpower to put more cops where calls for service are the highest has been talked about for decades. Chicago mayors have hired consultants to make recommendations but those studies were shelved.

The current battle over how to best allocate police manpower is taking place as the city — like others across the country — is facing calls to cut the police budget and put the money in other services.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab is now studying how the police department can more efficiently deploy cops in the city’s 22 districts. The study is expected to be done by the end of the year, sources said.

“It’s about time that a better public safety model is created, particularly in North Lawndale, where I have folks leaving in droves because they don’t feel safe to come outside of their homes,” said Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest City Council allies.

Asked about the study, a spokeswoman for the police department released this brief statement: “CPD is continually monitoring and recalibrating resources based on operational needs.”

The latest study of police manpower in Chicago was completed in 2017.

Alexander Weiss, former head of the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University, who studied deployment of Chicago beat cops and recommended changes in 2017.

Alexander Weiss, former head of the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University, who studied deployment of Chicago beat cops and recommended changes in 2017.

Provided

Alexander Weiss, former director of the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University, and Paul Evans, former commissioner of the Boston Police Department, recommended changes in how cops are allocated in Chicago’s police districts but their suggestions weren’t carried out.

The city paid about $150,000 for their study, which concentrated on citizens’ calls for service in beats, which are the subdivisions of the city’s 22 police districts.

In a nutshell, the study found that more squad cars should be added to beats where the number of those calls is the highest. The current system doesn’t allow for that flexibility.

“If 50% of the calls came in the afternoon shift, 50% of your officers would work on the afternoon shift,” Weiss said in an interview.

“Some of the beats have twice as many calls as others,” he noted.

The Weiss study pointed out that officers were spending a lot of time responding to some types of calls that didn’t have a lot to do with public safety. For instance, security alarms are false most of the time but comprise a big share of cops’ time.

The Chicago Sun-Times obtained a draft of Weiss’ study, which recommended staffing numbers for each district.

The levels were based on whether cops were spending 40% of their time on calls for service and 60% on “other activity” like community outreach, or whether they were splitting their time evenly between those things.

Big differences in calls for service

There were huge differences in the number of calls for service each district and each beat handled.

The Chicago Lawn District on the Southwest Side handled three times as many calls as the Lincoln District on the North Side.

And one beat in the Near North District responded to four times as many calls for service as another beat in the same district.

The new U. of C. study is being conducted free of charge to the city, officials said. Sources said the new study will look at more factors than calls for service, and will include other data like the population density of a particular police district.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the Council’s public safety committee, has been pushing for changes in how beats are staffed since he was first elected in 1999.

Beale said it’s more important than ever for Lightfoot to have the political will to confront the controversial issue.

“Everybody knows that beat realignment is the one sure way to put resources where they’re needed,” he said.

“If we’re finally going to start looking to solve our problems on a permanent basis, we have to do something different. Creating these [specialized] units is nothing but old ideas with new names on them. But they’re the same old tactics,” Beale said.

But Northwest Side Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader, isn’t happy about revisiting how cops are deployed in beats.

“I’m a little concerned about any type of realignment, given the fact that, in the 16thDistrict, part of the ward that I represent, we’re at 17 murders in one year. Historically, we have seen anywhere from zero to five. So we are up 300%,” Villegas said. “There’s no way that I’m going to advocate for resources coming from my area going anywhere.”

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