Top cop explains police station closings as critics question savings

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Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced crime reduction plans that concentrate Police resources from several bureaus to coordinate efforts in the Englewood and Harrison Districts, Monday, January 23 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said residents of low-crime areas shouldn’t worry that their neighborhoods will be left with less protection as his department closes and consolidates districts Sunday in its first major structural change in 31 years.

But a resident of one of the affected districts said the changes are too abrupt and the leader of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police questioned whether the move will really produce the $10 million to $12 million savings projected by the city.

“Not all of the moves make sense,” said Chicago FOP President Michael Shields.

Starting Sunday, the city will switch from five patrol and detective area commands to three: central (Area 1), south (Area 2) and north (Area 3). Two police districts will also be closed and absorbed by other districts. Officers from the Prairie District, 300 E. 29th, will be spread among the Wentworth District, 5101 S. Wentworth; the Deering District, 3120 S. Halsted, and Central District, 1718 S. State.

The Belmont District, 2452 W. Belmont, will move to the Town Hall District facility at 850 W. Addison. It’ll keep the Town Hall name but use Belmont’s old number, “19.”

Before the consolidation, McCarthy said the affected districts ranked in the bottom 10 out of 25 in numbers of officers assigned, population, geographical area, calls for service and crime. After consolidation, he said, they’ll rank in the top three for officers assigned and mid-level in each of the other categories.

Each consolidation also puts as many as 20 extra officers on the street, McCarthy said. The changes are part of a search for long-term solutions, he said, flattening out bureaucracy and working toward the “most efficient crime-fighting machine” the city can have. He said the communities don’t have to worry about having enough protection, because the department’s not shifting resources.

“It’s not the buildings that protect the public,” McCarthy said. “It’s the officers.”

Al Livingstone, who said he lives in the Town Hall District, said the changes are coming too quickly.

“I think the community should have been involved,” Livingstone said after McCarthy’s news conference at the Town Hall station.

Police officials said the Prairie District’s building, opened in 1952, is the only one actually closing. The Belmont building will still be used, Shields pointed out, so he said it’s not “a case of the city shutting the lights out and closing up the building.”

And he said he worries officers will slowly be removed from some districts, despite McCarthy’s comments.

“I still am concerned that some officers will be phased out of the Addison Street station and brought elsewhere,” Shields said.

The city’s Wood District also is expected to close, but McCarthy said that won’t happen until later this fall because of construction. Critics of that proposal have started a website to oppose it.

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