Facing higher murder rate, Emanuel vows to hire more cops
BY FRANK MAIN AND FRAN SPIELMAN Sun-Times Media October 10, 2012 5:08PM
In his annual budget address Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to hire more police officers. | File photo
Updated: November 12, 2012 12:02PM
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday painted an upbeat picture of the police department’s efforts to combat murder and other crime — countering a national perception that killings are out of control in the city.
Emanuel, in his budget address, also touted the expected hiring of almost 460 new police officers this year and another 500 next year.
But Art Lurigio, a criminologist at Loyola University, said the address was too short on specifics to draw any conclusions on whether Chicago is making progress in fighting crime.
“This is a political speech,” Lurigio said.
As for Emanuel’s new police hires, they may not even keep pace with retirements, according to union officials and aldermen who say more cops are badly needed. Through Aug. 15, 420 officers had already retired this year, according to the Fraternal Order of Police.
Emanuel said he will make permanent a summer overtime initiative that put more cops on the street. While that has been boosting manpower in violent police districts such as Englewood, many officers have told the Chicago Sun-Times they plan to reduce or eliminate their overtime work because they got burned out over the summer.
In his budget address, the mayor tried to combat the notion of a city with an escalating murder problem, although he acknowledged some neighborhoods experienced an increase in gang violence over the first three months of 2012 that “I, as a mayor, will never accept.”
Chicago gained national attention this spring when the number of killings topped last year’s by more than 60 percent. Since then, though, the murder rate has flattened out, police statistics show. The year’s homicide increase through the end of September was about 28 percent.
Emanuel pointed out that the Englewood and Harrison police districts, which have received an infusion of beat cops and other resources, have seen major decreases in murders this year, by 42 percent and 20 percent respectively. But he acknowledged that other parts of the city have seen their homicide rates soar because of gang conflicts.
Emanuel said the department has expanded its new gang-fighting strategy in three of those places — the Grand Crossing, Auburn-Gresham and Little Village communities — where he said there’s been a 24 percent reduction in crime over the last month.
Indeed, murder was down in the districts covering Grand Crossing and Little Village in September, but killings spiked in the Gresham District. Each of those places saw major increases in murders over the entire year.
Five other districts also posted an increase in murders in September, statistics show.
Emanuel emphasized that crime is down in every other major category besides murder, resulting in a 9 percent overall decrease in crime across the city.
He said the department is making progress in fighting crime, which he attributed to “the courage of our police officers,” as well as moving cops from offices to the street and replacing the leadership in several police districts.
As expected, union leaders and some aldermen reacted to the mayor’s budget address with skepticism.
They have pointed out the mayor campaigned on a promise to add 1,000 police officers on the street, 250 of them newly hired with funds generated by tax-increment-financing districts.
Instead, Emanuel reassigned about 1,000 police officers to beat patrol, half of them already on the street in now-disbanded specialized units.
His critics also point out the mayor previously eliminated more than 1,400 vacancies from 13,500 budgeted positions.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) urged the mayor to declare a surplus in the city’s 159 TIF districts to generate enough money to hire at least 500 additional police officers. Treading water is not enough, he said.
“It was funny the way he used the term, ‘full strength.’ But ‘full strength’ according to whom? These new classes coming out of the academy are just not enough to keep up with the pace of retirements and attrition,” Munoz said.
“It’s painfully obvious that our neighborhoods need help,” he said. “It’s a flick of a pen that would allow for this TIF surplus to be declared and allowed to be used for additional officers.”
In his address, meanwhile, Emanuel vowed to energize the city’s moribund community-policing program.
The program was a key part of the department’s crime-fighting strategy under former police Supt. Terry Hillard in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but lost its luster in recent years.
Emanuel said he would move CAPS officers from police headquarters into districts they are supposed to serve. In his address, the mayor said the program has become “too bureaucratic.”
In a meeting with the Sun-Times editorial board, Emanuel said about 50 community-policing employees in headquarters will join nearly 70 already in districts. Their performance will come under the same scrutiny as other officers, he said.