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Chicago police districts won’t get full effect of hiring surge until end of year

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson

Chicago’s 22 police districts will have to wait until the end of this year to benefit fully from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s two-year police hiring surge, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson acknowledged on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago’s 22 police districts will have to wait until the end of this year to benefit fully from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s two-year police hiring surge, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson acknowledged Wednesday.

Johnson and Deputy Supt. Barbara West said 1,200 police officers have been hired — for a net gain of 720 officers after retirements — since Jan. 1, 2017.

That was just over three months after Emanuel abruptly abandoned his reliance on runaway police overtime and announced a two-year plan to hire 970 police officers above and beyond attrition.

But they acknowledged that only 400 of those new officers have been assigned to districts, and that was only enough to “back-fill” more than 400 district officers who were “primarily” responsible for a wave of 2017 retirements.

The rest of the hirings “added and back-filled”: 270 detectives, 142 sergeants and 200 field training officers, West said.

Another 100 training officers were assigned to the police academy to accommodate the conveyor belt of classes being hired each month. Yet another 100 officers have been dedicated to “reform efforts and body camera program implementation.”

Even with the new hirings, the 990 detectives remain 100 below authorized strength. There are 1,200 sergeants and 94 sergeant vacancies.

From the outset, West said the intention was to “grow detective and training ranks” during the first year of the hiring blitz while “maintaining” district staffing levels.

“2018 is going to be the year when we’re actually gonna add more manpower to the police districts across the city,” West said, noting that 600 recruits are in the academy.

By the end of this year, every one of Chicago’s 22 police districts will have more officers than it did before the hiring surge began, Johnson said, refusing to put a specific number on that increase.

“The goal at the end of it is to get us to a certain point. But you don’t become a police officer in a week. It takes time. That time is coming. We will get there,” Johnson said.

“Just know we are doing what we said we were going to do. We are keeping up with attrition. We are hiring the nearly 1,000 officers we pledged to do,” he said. “A more accurate reflection of where we are will be at the end of this hiring surge. That’s how you determine whether or not we’re doing what we said we were going to do.”

Johnson emphatically refused to reveal how many officers are assigned to each district. Nor would he say how many, if any, districts have fewer officers today than they did before the hiring surge.

“I will not release district-by-district numbers because it’s an officer safety issue. If the bad guys knew exactly what we put out there every day, that would give them a mechanism to try to figure out how to defeat us,” Johnson said.

“It’s been our policy for years, decades. And it’s consistent with best practices across the country. That’s why we don’t disclose those numbers. … One of my responsibilities is not just to keep the citizens safe, but to keep these officers safe.”

North Side Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has been on the warpath about a drop in police manpower in a Town Hall District plagued by robberies and burglaries that runs contrary to a promise made in exchange for his vote for the largest property tax increase in Chicago history.

Tunney has said he talked to Johnson about the alarming drop in officers and was promised “more resources by May. … He has made a private commitment to me that I will be happy with the number.”

Emanuel balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies, merging police and fire headquarters, reducing police and detective areas from five to three and closing three district police stations: Wood, Belmont and Prairie.

Since then, the number of police officers assigned to the Town Hall district has dropped by 30 percent — from 468 officers to 352 today.

On Wednesday, Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi refused to reveal how many additional police officers Johnson promised Tunney.

Guglielmi would only say, “They’re going to get them back to levels prior to when those two districts merged.”