The number of police officers retiring in Chicago and other cities has soared amid a chorus of anti-police rhetoric that’s become increasingly loud over the past year.
In Chicago, 560 officers retired in 2020 in a police department that had about 13,100 sworn officers as of March, records show. That’s about 15% more cops retiring than during the previous year, when the number of retirements rose by nearly 30%.
In New York City, 2,500 cops retired last year, nearly double the number in 2019, according to the New York Police Department, which has about 34,500 uniformed officers.
In Minneapolis, about 40 officers retired last year, and another 120 took leaves of absence. That’s nearly 20% of a police department with about 840 officers in the city that touched off anti-police protests nationwide following the death last May of George Floyd, who was Black. A since-fired white cop knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes that was captured on video by witnesses. Police officials are waiting to see whether the leaves of absences in the Minnesota city become retirements.
“It’s serious,” said Michael Lappe, vice president of the board of trustees for the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, which oversees police pensions. “A lot of these people aren’t retiring. They’re quitting.”
Minneapolis city officials are asking surrounding communities to place some of their officers on joint law enforcement teams in the face of the flood of departures. The Minneapolis Police Department also is curtailing some of the work it normally does.
“The bike cops and the community engagement has been done away with,” police spokesman John Elder said. “Our homeless missions were scrapped. Our 911 response and our investigations are the focus now.”
In Chicago, some cops say last summer’s riots and demonstrations, which saw Black Lives Matter community activists call for defunding the police, were demoralizing. They say it also didn’t help police morale that more than 1,000 officers have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Speaking only on the condition of not being named, some officers also said the massive criminal justice reform bill that passed in Springfield on Wednesday could be the final straw that could prompt them to leave the department even though they haven’t worked enough years to qualify for a maximum pension.
Among many other things, the bill — which Gov. J.B. Pritzker has two months to sign — would make it easier to file complaints against police officers. Sponsors said the legislation was a response to systemic racism.
The upswing in cop retirements in Chicago already is hurting the police pension system, according to Lappe. About 1,100 more people are now getting pensions than the number who are paying into the fund in Chicago, he said.
The rising number of cop retirements last year in Chicago also coincided with massive spending on police overtime to keep up with the soaring number of shootings as well as the rioting and demonstrations.
The retirements will put added pressure on the police department to recruit new cops this year, especially with 90 more officers having put in to retire in February. Police officials said they’re prepared to fill the vacancies.
“Recruiting and hiring the next generation of officers who reflect a broad cross section of our neighborhoods in which we serve is a priority for the Chicago Police Department,” officials said in a written statement. “We are currently working on plans for recruitment and hiring this year as we continue working to improve public safety in our communities across the city. As plans for hiring are being solidified, CPD continues to maintain appropriate manpower citywide.”
John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police union, said he can’t see how the police department’s recruiting can keep pace with the retirements and pointed to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s latest budget, which eliminated 614 police vacancies.
“Even ones that aren’t eligible to collect a pension check — if you’ve got five years on and you’ve got other options, I can see officers exploring it,” Catanzara said. “And what is this city going to do? You literally just handed the keys to the criminals.
“They have just made policing in this city and state near-impossible,” the police union boss said. “They have given control to the criminals.”