CHICAGO – The Chicago Police Department plans to hire more than 500 additional officers as it struggles to deal with a violent year full of killings and gun crimes, a city official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson will announce the hires Wednesday, according to the official who was briefed on the plan and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the plan ahead of the announcement.
The department currently has more than 12,000 officers, and hasn't had a hiring push of this magnitude in years. The move is a departure from how Mayor Rahm Emanuel has handled staffing at the department during his tenure, resisting pressure to add to the department's ranks and instead paying thousands of dollars in overtime. Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins declined to comment.
Chicago has seen a dramatic rise in the number of shootings and homicides this year. In August alone, there were 90 homicides for the first time in two decades. Overall, the city has recorded more than 500 homicides this year — higher than all of 2015 — and is on pace to climb past the 600-homicide mark for the first time since 2003. There have also been more than 2,500 shooting incidents so far this year, about 700 more than in the same time period last year.
City officials have discussed possible hires with aldermen in recent days. Some of the aldermen were skeptical, saying resources should also be poured into education and creating jobs.
"The police allocation and resources are only part of this puzzle," according to Alderman Anthony Beale, who represents a far South Side ward and is on a public safety committee.
Even if officers are added, Beale continued, there's no guarantee they'll be assigned long-term to areas where there's more crime.
Alderwoman Pat Dowell, who also represents a South Side ward, said 500 officers would be "a good start" but echoed Beale's concerns about resources for jobs and social services.
"This is all part of a complex web," she said.
The high use of overtime payouts in a financially strapped city is something Emanuel and the police superintendent he hired when he took office in 2011, Garry McCarthy, forcefully defended, saying it was a less expensive way to keep more cops on the street because hiring more would bring additional health care and pension costs.
But things have drastically changed. According to a recent Chicago Sun-Times report, there are fewer officers because police retirements have outpaced hiring by 975 officers.
Plus, the department that's long struggled with a reputation for police misconduct and brutality has been beset by criticisms and an erosion of trust in the wake of several fatal police shootings. Last year, the city was forced to release a video of a white officer fatally shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014, sparking major protests as well as federal and local investigations.
The fallout over the video prompted Emanuel to fire McCarthy at the end of last year. Interim Superintendent John Escalante and his permanent replacement, Johnson, have struggled to bring the violence under control. During that time, the call for more officers in several city neighborhoods and from aldermen has only gotten louder.