While the Chicago Police Department publicly says patrol officers are the backbone of its operation, city records show local police districts across the city have lost 18% of their officers since David Brown became CPD superintendent in April 2020.
Staffing challenges recently forced the department to shutter overnight operations for the unit that takes police reports over the phone, CWBChicago learned. And some detectives, who should be conducting investigations to solve crimes, will soon be deployed to sit on street corners in uniform, according to a CPD email issued this week.
All of that comes as the unions representing both sergeants and lieutenants recently sent letters to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Brown to warn that their supervisory force is significantly lower than budgeted.
Since Brown joined CPD, 19 of the department’s 22 police districts — including all of its most violent — have lost at least 12% of their cops, according to records provided by Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General.
The reduction in beat-level cops is partly the result of CPD losing 5% of officers over the past year to retirements and younger officers leaving for other opportunities, city records show. Another 1,000 cops who used to report to work in neighborhoods have been transferred to new citywide units that Brown created to handle hotspots and participate in community relations activities like shoveling snow and filling potholes.
The Gresham District, third-worst in the city for homicides last year, has lost 25% of its beat cops under Brown. The second-worst and worst districts for murder last year, Englewood and Harrison, have both lost 22% of their front-line cops, the data shows.
On the North Side, CPD’s Lakeview-based Town Hall district has shed 16% of its officers under Brown, leaving it with a total force of 327 officers. That’s among the lowest numbers recorded since CWBChicago began tracking Town Hall’s police headcount in 2013.
Six years ago, Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) voted in favor of the city’s record-breaking property tax hike in exchange for a promise to maintain a headcount of at least 376 cops at Town Hall. When the department failed to meet its promise and manpower slipped to 352 officers in February 2018, Tunney said he was “alarmed.” Now, the district’s force is 25 cops shy of even that number.
But the reality for most districts is even worse than the numbers appear. CPD brass continues to send units away from neighborhood patrol to sit on Michigan Avenue, State Street, and other downtown locations to maintain visibility since last year’s looting.
Call center cuts
For years, CPD has tried to keep more cops on the streets by taking reports for non-violent and non-emergency crimes like burglaries and thefts over the phone.
But a memo from Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, provided to CWBChicago by a source, says the police call center is no longer operating on overnight hours. So, when someone wants to file a report for non-emergency crimes between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., the city will dispatch a squad car to do it, the memo said.
Of course, with district-level staffing down by double-digits in nearly all areas of the city, it may take a long time for a unit to become available.
According to the OEMC memo, the police department’s “Alternative Response Section” began shutting down overnight as of Thursday, April 29. A CPD spokesperson confirmed the email’s content.
“Residents are encouraged to file non-emergency reports online or in-person at any of CPD’s 22 district stations,” the spokesperson said.
Detectives sitting on corners
On Wednesday, some detective supervisors were informed of “a new anti-violence initiative” that the department is rolling out: All five of CPD’s detective divisions will assign eight detectives to work in uniform as an “incident response team” on morning and evening shifts, the email said.
According to the message, the response teams “will be activated anytime a district has multiple shooting incidents or whatever other criteria is decided.”
But the detectives won’t be going to the scene to investigate the shootings. Instead, they will be assigned to sit in a fixed position or on a street corner, sometimes with a “city asset” such as a salt truck or CTA supervisor, the memo said.
Detectives assigned to homicide units and gang investigations won’t be used for corner-sitting, according to the plan. And, CWBChicago has learned, detectives have recently been used to patrol Safe Passage routes when the local districts didn’t have enough cops to do it themselves.
“They’re higher salary and should be investigating crimes,” a source said. Instead, some detectives are watching kids cross streets and may soon be spending an inordinate amount of time with a salt truck.
There’s an indication in the email that CPD brass expects some pushback on their plan to have detectives sit on street corners. The message ends with an all-caps warning:
“EVERYONE MUST KEEP THEIR UNIFORM AND EQUIPMENT READY AND AVAILABLE. IT WILL NOT BE ACCEPTABLE FOR SOME PEOPLE TO NOT HAVE EQUIPMENT AND MAKE ANOTHER PERSON RESPOND IN THEIR PLACE.”
The city’s five detective units picked up marked vehicles for response teams on Thursday and they will run drills over the upcoming weekend “to see how long it takes to deploy and arrive on post,” the memo said.
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