Chicago has fewer beat cops despite police hiring surge, records show
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More than a year into the Chicago Police Department’s biggest hiring surge in decades, 14 of the city’s 22 police districts now have fewer beat cops than they did when the push was announced, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
The city hired more than 1,400 cadets and placed them in the police academy between October 2016 — when Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his plans to expand the department — and late March.
The new hires have outpaced the 862 retirements from the department during the same period, the records show. This net gain of about 600 sworn police personnel put the city on track to meet the mayor’s promise to add nearly 1,000 officers over two years.
But the number of rank-and-file officers assigned to police districts across Chicago has dropped in the 17 months since Emanuel’s announcement, the Sun-Times found.
The number of beat cops assigned to districts citywide was 6,046 as of March 29, a Sun-Times analysis of police department records shows. That was a drop of nearly 200 officers since October 2016, when there were 6,244 beat cops on patrol in districts.
In 2011, the year he took office, Emanuel said beat cops were key to his crime-fighting strategy. When he moved 150 officers from other roles that June to patrolling the streets, the mayor told reporters, “These officers are going to be the backbone of our police department, working on the beat.”
And at a police graduation ceremony in 2012, Emanuel said: “The beat officer is the backbone of the police force. As mayor, my No. 1 priority for safety is putting more police on the beat . . .”
This February, after Sun-Times reporters requested a district-by-district staffing breakdown from the police department, Supt. Eddie Johnson acknowledged that relatively few of the new hires in the past year had been assigned to districts.
But Johnson promised that “we’re actually going to add more manpower to the police districts across the city” by the end of the year.
At the time, Johnson wouldn’t say how many officers were assigned to each of the city’s 22 police districts. He said disclosing that information would endanger officers.
The department released its deployment data in response to a public records request the Sun-Times made under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which doesn’t allow police departments to keep such staffing records secret.
As of March 29, the records show the steepest drop-offs were in the department’s 7th, 11th, 10th and 2nd districts, all which have been wracked by violence for years.
The records show:
• The 7th district — which includes Englewood — had 357 beat officers on March 29. That was 37 fewer than in October 2016.
• The 11th district — encompassing East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park and Humboldt Park — experienced a net loss of 32 beat cops during the same 17-month stretch.
• The 10th district — covering Little Village, Douglas Park, Homan Square and Lawndale — lost 29 beat cops between October 2016 and late March, as did the South Side’s 2nd district.
Despite those losses of beat cops, murder and most other types of crimes have dropped in those four districts so far this year.
For decades, how the police department distributes its thinning ranks has been a hot issue for City Hall. People living in high-crime areas and their representatives on the Chicago City Council hope a surge of fresh police reinforcements would result in fewer killings and other violence in their neighborhoods. And those in relatively low-crime districts don’t want to lose officers to districts with more crime and violence.
Often, the number of new police hires hasn’t even compensated for retirements.
Early in Emanuel’s tenure as mayor, the city increased the number of beat cops in districts, only to see a wave of retirements wash away those gains within months.
High-ranking Emanuel administration officials — including top cop-turned-mayoral challenger Garry McCarthy — argued that hiring more cops to increase overall numbers wasn’t necessary. But the mayor drastically shifted his position in the fall of 2016, promising to add 970 sworn cops by the end of 2018.
The current hiring wave finally is allowing the new graduates of the policy academy to outnumber retirees, records show.
But where they’ll be deployed hasn’t been something Johnson has wanted to talk about. In February, the superintendent said: “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.
“It’s been our policy for years, decades,” the superintendent said. “And it’s consistent with best practices across the country.”
City officials had kept district-by-district deployment data secret for decades, but that changed in 2012, after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office sided with the Sun-Times in a Freedom of Information Act dispute with the police department, headed at the time by McCarthy. After Madigan’s finding, the department released the data.
At that time, the numbers showed Emanuel had failed to keep his promise to add 1,000 beat officers to patrol the streets. Instead, the city was relying on officers working overtime to deal with a surge in violence that put an unwelcome spotlight on Chicago and increased pressure on the mayor.
Now, hundreds of cadets a year are going through the city’s police academy.
Rather than beef up the ranks of patrol officers in the districts, though, the department has focused largely on adding detectives, field training officers and supervisors.
Records show the number of detectives increased to 969 as of March 29, compared to 852 of them 17 months earlier.
The ranks of field training officers — who mentor rookie officers — assigned to districts rose to 305 from 103, while the number of sergeants citywide went up from 635 to 669.
And there were 188 lieutenants in the districts in late March, compared with 147 in the fall of 2016.
Barbara West, chief of the Bureau of Operational Development, says promoting additional supervisors is one of a series of reforms in response to a highly critical Justice Department report early last year in the wake of the release of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Extra supervisors were needed before the department could add significant numbers of beat cops in districts, according to West, who says they will “mentor and guide” the new officers.
She says the hiring surge also will help with other reforms, including more robust community policing, and allow more officers to be pulled off the street to be given additional training.
Johnson has promised that, by the end of this year, each district will have more beat cops than before the start of the current hiring surge.
Officials announced last weekend that 108 new graduates from the academy had been assigned to a total of nine districts, with the biggest groups — 15 officers each — going to the 2nd and 4th districts on the South Side.