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Chicago cops are retiring at ‘unheard of’ twice the usual rate

Michael Lappe, vice president of the police pension fund, says 59 officers are retiring in August and 51 next month — ‘double the average number of retirees each month.’

Chicago police pension trustee Michael Lappe.
Chicago police pension trustee Michael Lappe.
Sun-Times file

Chicago police officers have been retiring at double the normal rate recently, raising concerns that the number of new hires won’t keep pace with the number leaving.

Michael Lappe, vice president of the board of trustees for the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, said 59 police officers are retiring in August, with another 51 retirements set for next month.

“That’s unheard of,” Lappe said. “We’re seeing double the average number of retirees each month. The average is about 24 a month.”

He said a change in health insurance benefits is a factor, while the police union president blames Mayor Lori Lightfoot for not backing police officers.

Retirements in 2020 are on pace to be higher than in any of the past few years. There were 335 police retirements through the end of July, compared with 475 for all of 2019 and 339 for all of 2018, according to pension records.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the city council’s police committee, said he realized retirements were on the rise when he was at police headquarters for a meeting last week.

“From the time I walked in to police headquarters to the time I left, which was about 35 minutes, there were nine or 10 officers who approached me and said they were leaving,” he said. “Every person who walked past me said, ‘Hey, Beale, I’m out of here.’ ”

John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, said he sees a wave of retirements leaving the city short of cops.

“I have no doubt that it’s going to continue, and I can clearly see a smaller spike within the upper ranks [of] lieutenants and above,” Catanzara said. “Who wants to stay in this environment? If you have the ability to leave, there is no incentive to stay anymore.

“The mayor doesn’t back us,” he said. “If you have the financial ability to do so, I don’t blame a single soul for leaving.”

For months, Catanzara and Lightfoot have been at odds over police reform and union contract negotiations. Officers are working under a contract that expired in 2017.

Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the department’s staffing was at a 10-year high, with 13,350 officers. In March, the department’s figures showed a total of about 13,100 officers.

Still, there’s an impression among elected officials that the Chicago Police Department is woefully understaffed.

“We’re way short of officers now, and I’m afraid, as people go to retire, we’re going to be even further short of officers on the street,” Beale said. “We’re working officers double-time, triple-time. It’s only a matter of time before officers are totally burned out.”

A police spokesman said the department continues to add officers, with some cadets finishing training and others entering the police academy next week.

Lappe said his concern is that a large, sustained wave of retirements will harm the pension system’s financial health.

Even now, about 850 more retirees are drawing a pension than the number of officers working on active duty, Lappe said. Two decades ago, those numbers were reversed. with about 3,000 more officers on the job than retirees getting a pension, records show.