New police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Monday, May 2, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Garry McCarthy has verbal shootout with FOP head over staffing

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and the head of the police union got into a verbal shootout Monday over whether there’s a shortage of officers.

McCarthy spoke to the City Club of Chicago before taking questions from the audience – and got a tough one from Michael Shields, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Shields asked how McCarthy could expect to fight crime proactively when there is a shortage of 2,300 officers. Then he asked: “Can you admit the Chicago Police Department has a manpower problem?”

“The answer is no, I can’t do that because I don’t believe it,” McCarthy responded. “Sorry, Mike. I didn’t want to have these conversations in public.”

Shields’ figure was based on the department’s past budgeted strength of 13,500 officers.

But McCarthy questioned why the city thought it needed 13,500 officers in the first place.

“What was the analysis that was done? Was it based on geography, was it based on crime?” he said. “The answer I keep getting is ‘no, it’s based on the budget.’ ”

McCarthy told the audience he’s been moving hundreds of officers into patrol jobs since he took office in May. He said he shifted about 600 from desk jobs and about 400 from citywide units. Meanwhile, crime has fallen for 17 straight weeks compared to the same period of 2010, McCarthy said.

McCarthy acknowledged every city wants more officers. But Chicago and other cities don’t have the ability to pay for them in the current economic doldrums, he said. Chicago currently has 12,370 sworn officers and supervisors, according to figures released Monday by the city. The 2011 budget eliminated more than 1,200 vacant positions.

Chicago ranks third in the nation in the number of cops per 1,000 people, according to a comparison of 34 cities with populations over 500,000. Washington, D.C., ranked first, New York fifth and Los Angeles 13th. The comparison was based on a 2010 Department of Justice report.

McCarthy said he is not looking to expand the department’s payroll any time soon.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s a fair thing to do to the taxpayers at this point,” he said to rousing applause. Then he fired a shot at Shields, the FOP president: “Mike, why aren’t you clapping?”

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