Surge strategy a ‘recipe for disaster,’ police union president says

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham says temporarily shifting officers to flood high-crime areas has left others without backup and entire districts without supervision.

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Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham is interviewed Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019 by Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

A surge strategy that shifts Chicago Police officers from low-crime districts to temporarily flood high-crime areas is a “recipe for disaster” that has left officers without backup and entire districts without supervision, the police union president said Friday.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham has filed a grievance challenging Supt. David Brown’s decision to yank officers out of North and Northwest Side districts and reassign them to districts on the South and West sides without regard to “reverse seniority.”

But Graham said the new superintendent’s decision to “subvert the police contract” is not the only problem. So is the fact flooding the Englewood, Austin and Harrison districts with officers for at least two hours at a time is leaving huge swaths of the city without enough officers or supervision.

“Why should the 17th [Albany Park] District have … no sergeants available when you have an extra five in the 11th [Harrison] District? I thought the entire point of having the city engage in a consent decree … was to have supervisors watching what officers are doing. Yet, they’re stripping the supervisors and the manpower in those districts,” Graham said.

“It’s not just a matter citizens being left unprotected. It’s also not having backup from other officers. You strip the manpower. You’ve taken five police cars from a North Side district, sent ‘em to another district. And now, you’ve left the officers who are left [behind] vulnerable because they’re not going to be able to get the backup they need in time. It is a recipe for disaster.”

Police Department spokesman Tom Ahern did not respond to Graham’s charges.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has attempted to tie the surge strategy to what she called the “challenge of a lifetime” posed by policing during a pandemic that has seen more than 400 officers test positive for the coronavirus and three officers die from complications of it.

Lightfoot said the strategy aims to minimize the physical contact between officers and residents while being highly visible in areas suffering from gun violence by “bringing in lots of marked cars ... and being present with lights, with sirens.”

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Graham agreed that policing during a pandemic is the challenge of a lifetime. But he disagreed with her rationale for the surge.

The police union president believes the surge strategy has more to do with Lightfoot’s desire to crack down on police overtime.

“You should have had officers that were off duty sign up and do special employment there, which has been done in the past,” Graham said.

“Now, they are stripping officers from other districts and putting people, both in danger of criminal activity and not having enough backup for officers to respond when they’re calling for help.”

On Friday, Chicago Police officers were required to start wearing “issued surgical masks and gloves” except when inside “a police facility or department vehicle” on orders of First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio.

That’s not good enough to satisfy Graham.

“I just had an officer in my office 15 minutes ago … complaining that they do not have enough masks in their district. ... I know that they have stockpiles. But they are not getting out to some of the districts,” he said.

Graham also demanded hazard pay for officers; more frequent cleaning of police stations and vehicles; a testing station for officers at police headquarters; and mandatory testing for officers who have tested positive returning to work after two weeks in quarantine. He renewed his demand that police stations be closed to the public.

The mayor’s office fired back with a written statement calling Graham “flat wrong” and outlining what has been done during the pandemic:

• The city health department has distributed more than 14,000 PPE kits — including N95 masks, nitrile gloves, face shields and hand wipes — as well as 297,000 surgical masks, 474,000 gloves, 725 gallons of hand sanitizer and 41,000 hand sanitizer bottles to the police department.

• CPD also has received numerous donations of protective gear and other items, along with free rooms at downtown hotels.

“We get that Kevin Graham is fighting for his political life, but making up and spreading a false narrative to mislead his members about life-saving supports is a new low, even for him,” the statement said.

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