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After Deadly Summer, Chicago Hopes to Hire Nearly 1,000 More Cops

After years of insisting Chicago police could make do without adding officers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration acknowledged Wednesday that the department needs hundreds more to combat the violence plaguing the city, announcing a plan to hire nearly 1,000 beat officers, detectives and supervisors over the next two years.

By Bill Ruthhart, John Byrne and Jeremy Gorner

After years of insisting Chicago police could make do without adding officers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration acknowledged Wednesday that the department needs hundreds more to combat the violence plaguing the city, announcing a plan to hire nearly 1,000 beat officers, detectives and supervisors over the next two years.

Unlike previous promises to add officers to patrol by reassigning existing members of the department, Emanuel's announcement includes a complicated formula that sets a goal of reaching a net gain of 970 officers by the end of 2018. It's a tall order, given that for many years the city has not even hired enough officers to replace those who retire or leave.

In addition, how the department will pay for new officers -- which will cost about $135 million annually in its early years -- remained unclear. Emanuel pledged not to raise taxes to pay for police hiring.

The announcement comes as the mayor and his police department have been under intense pressure to reverse the rising tide of violence ravaging the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods -- a relentless drumbeat of grim news that has shaped a perception of the city nationally as a chaotic and dangerous place.

The hiring plan includes more than 500 new police officers, and hundreds more to beef up the ranks of detectives and supervisors. Police officials said they plan to then hire new officers to replace those who are promoted. The new hiring, they insisted, would be separate from the need to hire new officers to replace those who retire or leave the department for other reasons.

The hiring will begin in January, when the department starts enrolling an additional 100 recruits a month to the Police Academy, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.

"I owe you a department stronger in numbers, equipped for the 21st century, richer in skills and best practices to manage and challenge peacefully and honorably," Johnson, flanked by his top brass, said at a news conference filled with rank-and-file officers.

While couching the announcement in terms such as "hiring goals," which critics said raised questions about the department's ability to actually hire the new officers, Johnson said he could not address the city's rampant violence by shifting officers from safer areas to more dangerous places.

"We can't rob Peter to pay Paul when it comes to the safety of our city," Johnson said. The plans announced Wednesday "will make us a bigger department, a better department and a more effective department."

Emanuel's office and the Police Department did not reveal the cost of the additional officers or how the hires would be funded. Aldermen who were briefed said the mayor's aides did not tell them either. Ald. Ariel Reboyras, 30th, chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said the estimate was $135 million a year once fully implemented in 2018.

The cost of a new officer is $138,000 in the first year, which includes salary, supervision and other benefits, city officials have said. So, $135 million would pay for roughly 978 officers. By the fifth year in the department, the cost of each officer including benefits rises to $180,000, with the same 978 officers then costing the city $176 million per year.

"There was no explanation provided to us on how it's going to be paid for," Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, said. "Alex Holt, the budget director, wanted to get back to us on that."

Holt later released a statement.

"The budget office has been working to ensure that the 2017 budget includes these critical investments," she said in the statement. "While the 2017 budget is not yet final, we continue to identify all possible savings, reforms and sustainable funding to invest in the police department, but we won't have an increase in property tax, sales tax or gas tax."

Asked how the city would pay for the extra officers, Johnson also deflected the question.

"Listen, I'm superintendent of police. I'm a crime fighter, that's what I do," Johnson said to laughs from his fellow officers. "I can tell you this: The mayor and I have had several conversations. He has assured me the resources he's committed to giving us will be there."

Emanuel played down concerns about funding the hires, and reiterated his promise not to raise taxes to fund the plan.

"I'm determined that this is not a budget question. We won't raise property taxes. We won't raise taxes to pay for it," the mayor said Wednesday at an unrelated event. "We'll have the resources to meet our obligation."

The prospect of hiring more officers has been off the table in previous years because of the city's budget woes -- a stance that was backed up by confident assurances from top police officials that the department could manage well without them.

In Emanuel's first year in office, his new superintendent, Garry McCarthy, said the department did not need more officers even though leaders might want more officers if money wasn't a concern.

When asked to address the about-face on police staffing after years of relying on overtime, Emanuel said that in previous years of his administration violence rates had been low historically for Chicago. In fact, violence rates had been uneven in the city since Emanuel took over. The homicide rate spiked in 2012 and again in 2015.

This year, however, is a different story, with the murder rate on pace to match figures not seen since the crack cocaine wars that bloodied the streets in the late 1980s and 1990s. The city has already surpassed 3,000 shooting victims for the year and will most likely exceed 600 homicides for the first time in 13 years.

That surge has been accompanied by a decline in the number of murder cases that are solved -- known as the clearance rate -- below a level that already trailed the national average. Adding to the pressure, the U.S. Department of Justice continues to investigate the department's oversight in the wake of a string of shootings by cops.

On Wednesday, even the mayor acknowledged that circumstances had changed.

"What happened this year is new," Emanuel said. "So we're meeting it with a new response, which is more police, more technology, greater investment in our mentoring, our summer jobs and our after-school."

One crime expert said that residents had reason to be encouraged. James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said the new police positions were a "hopeful sign" for a city such as Chicago experiencing spikes in violence. But he said where the officers are deployed will be more important for the Police Department in how it fights the violence.

Fox said it will take time for newly hired officers to gain experience on the street. He also noted that there's still a chance the violent crime statistics can go down for reasons that have nothing to do with beefed-up manpower.

But inaction, he said, would court trouble. "If you do nothing," he said, "there's always a tendency for it to go up."

The mayor's office chose to roll out the news over multiple days leading up to a major speech Emanuel will deliver Thursday on his efforts to address the violence afflicting the city's poorest and most segregated neighborhoods.

In addition to beefing up the ranks of the police, the mayor is expected to promise more resources for mentoring and educational opportunities for young people most threatened by violence.

"Every child will have a mentor in our 20 worst violent-crime areas and neighborhoods of the city," Emanuel said. "Because we're going to make sure not another generation falls to the grips of gangs."

Johnson said that in addition to the new patrol officers, the department would increase its number of detectives by 200, which would bring the total to 1,063 -- still about 100 fewer than in 2009. The plan calls for hiring 112 new sergeants, 50 new lieutenants and 92 new field-training officers. Hiring more supervisors is likely to be among the demands that will eventually be made by the Justice Department in its ongoing investigation of Chicago police, which was prompted by the Laquan McDonald officer-involved shooting scandal.

Replacing officers who retire or quit will be one of the challenges Johnson faces in implementing the plan. The department already lags behind in filling those vacancies, and union leaders and officers say that accumulation of bad press and low morale has more officers considering retiring early, seeking suburban police jobs or even a career change. Although budgeted for 12,500 officers, the current staff level is at 12,100, spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

The added officers would bring the total number officers budgeted to 13,535, Johnson said. If Johnson keeps his pledge to erase the deficit in attrition replacement, the plan would actually add 1,435 officers to the ranks.

But it is attrition that poses one of the biggest challenges. In a typical year, 200 to 300 officers leave the department, Guglielmi said. He was unable to say how many officers had formally given notice of their plans to retire in the coming year, but union officials have said the figure is higher than normal. Johnson was careful to tailor some of his remarks to about 200 officers in the room Wednesday at the news conference.

"This is not an easy time to be a police officer," Johnson said. "The pressure to perform is greater than ever before. The cameras and phone videos means we are always constantly in the spotlight."

The vacancies have been especially troubling to the detective division. The department is budgeted to have 992 detectives, but department staffing figures released by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 recently showed the detective staffing at 862. In 2009, that figure stood at more than 1,150.

The impact of such losses shows up on how often killers are brought to justice.

The department's 2016 homicide clearance rate is 30 percent, far lower than the rate in other cities. When homicides from other years cleared this year are removed from the equation, the clearance rate for 2016 homicides drops to 21 percent.

"It's time to rebuild the detective division," Johnson said.

While the department will focus on hiring more officers, Johnson said he will look into jobs that can be done by civilians instead of sworn members.

Chicago had about 4.4 officers per 1,000 residents, more than any of the other four largest American cities, according to FBI statistics for 2014, the most recent year available. New York had 4.1, Los Angeles 2.5, Houston 2.4 and Philadelphia 4.1.

But each of those four cities had more civilian employees per capita than Chicago, the FBI statistics show. New York's civilian ranks were much higher, with 1.8 civilian employees in its police department for every 1,000 residents -- more than four times as many than Chicago.

Emanuel last year took steps to address that disparity by hiring 319 new civilian Police Department employees and shifting an equal number of cops to street duty. But the city still lags the other four large cities in the number of civilian employees.

The FBI statistics also show that the number of cops in Chicago declined by more than 400 -- to fewer than 12,100 -- between 2010 and 2011, the year Emanuel took office. Between then and 2014, the numbers of sworn personnel remained about 12,000.

The staff level of about 12,100 is about 400 fewer than the numbers reported to the FBI in 2010, former Mayor Richard M. Daley's last full year in office.

As crime has spiked over the past few years, critics such as the police union and some aldermen have said the evidence clearly indicated the department's use of overtime to cover the city was not working and was stretching the rank and file to the breaking point. This year critics had become more vocal in urging Emanuel to face facts and find the money to hire more officers.

"Unfortunately, it took five years to come to the realization that we didn't have a force that was able to do the work that they need to do in our communities," said Ald. John Arena, 45th. "It's a good plan, if we follow through."

Chicago Tribune's David Heinzmann, Hal Dardick and Dan Hinkel contributed.

(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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