Chicago aims to hire 1,000 police to combat high crime rate, address surge in retirements

In one of its most ambitious recruitment drives ever, Chicago officials say they have received more than 10,000 applications for law enforcement jobs, ahead of the midnight deadline to “protect and serve” in a city grappling with a seemingly unending wave of high crime.

The recruitment campaign, named “Be the Change,” is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vow to hire more than 1,000 new police officers over a two-year period.

The first application round, which closed in the spring, garnered some 14,000 applications, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Nearly three-quarters of the applicants were said to be minorities, the newspaper reported.

A main objective behind the hiring spree is to replenish police ranks that have seen a rise in retirements, the newspaper said. Some 275 police officers decided to retire after the police department offered free health insurance at age 55, the Sun-Times reported.

Other goals, city officials have said, are to increase diversity on the force and to do a better job of solving murder cases.

The number of killings in Chicago reached 700 in 2016 -- the highest annual toll in more than two decades.

The rate of closed investigations is 20 percent, compared with 60 percent about 30 years ago, according to published reports.

A Wall Street Journal story attributed the drop in closed cases to the reluctance of residents, especially in minority communities, to approach police with information.

We are looking for the best and brightest of Chicago.

- Barbara West, Chicago Police Department

“We’re looking for the best and brightest of Chicago,” Police Chief of Organizational Development Barbara West told reporters this weekend. “If you’re thinking about applying… please do so.”

Minority leaders have long complained that the police department does not come close to reflecting the city’s diversity, a factor, they say, in the lack of trust among residents in law enforcement and misunderstandings that lead to tensions.

Most of the police force is white, but less than half of the city overall -- about 4 in 10 -- is white, according to reports.

“CPD’s command staff is already the most diverse leadership team in the department’s history, with more minorities and women serving in senior roles than ever before,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who is black, told the Journal. “But we can do better.”

Fox News' efforts to obtain comments from the police department and the mayor's office were unsuccessful.

Chicago has sent recruiters to minority neighborhoods to encourage residents to apply. The city also has taken steps aimed at making applying less of a hassle, such as waiving the $30 exam fee, shortening the six-month period it takes to process applications, and letting applicants retake a physical exam if they fail it, city officials said.

CPD's command staff is already the most diverse leadership team in the department's history, with more minorities and women serving in senior roles than ever before. But we can do better.

- Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson

Officials told the Sun-Times about half of their applicants drop out because of confusion and obstacles related to the physical exam, called the POWER physical fitness test. The test includes timed sit-ups and a run of slightly more than a mile, among other things.

Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, the former chairman of the City Council's Police Committee, sees the city’s vow to diversity its force as disingenuous.

“The recruitment drive is all smoke and mirrors,” Beale told Fox News, “to give the impression they’re reaching out to people of color and minority community, to get the force to be more diverse.”

He added, “But until there is systemic change in the hiring process we will have the same outcomes. The hiring process favors Caucasians.”

Beale said that strict credit criteria to qualify for the police department, for instance, is unfair in the state with the highest black unemployment in the nation.

“How can you get hired if you have bad credit,” a common casualty of unemployment, he said.

Until there is systemic change in the hiring process we will have the same outcomes. The hiring process favors Caucasians.

- Chicago City Alderman Anthony Beale

He said he knew a young man who applied to the police department but was disqualified because he had defaulted on a student loan. He said that otherwise, the young man had strong credentials.

Beale said he has drawn fire from others in the city who have asked him if he wants standards to be lowered in order to hire more minorities. 

Beale said it is wrong to conclude that minorities are less capable than non-minorities.

“I’m just trying to get more minorities who are qualified on the police department,” he said.