As CPD’s most violent districts lose hundreds of officers, a tweeted photo offers a peek behind the curtain

The picture looks innocuous enough. Chicago’s police dispatchers sitting at their terminals, dishing out Fourth of July weekend horrors to cops in the field.

“The OEMC 9-1-1 Call Center and the EOC are working with our public safety partners to keep residents safe this weekend,” the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications said in a tweet that accompanied the photo.

But a well-trained eye noticed something interesting in the photo. Take a look. See if you can spot it:

The Chicago Office of Emergency Management police dispatch center is seen in a photograph tweeted by city officials on July 3, 2021. | OEMC

That’s okay. We didn’t notice either until a one-time police dispatcher dropped us a line and directed our attention to this computer screen in the photo:

“Those are the pending calls for that zone,” the dispatch guru told us. “The jobs marked with yellow are over the dispatch time. So, nearly all of them.”

That’s right. Each line on that screen represents a situation awaiting police response in that dispatcher’s corner of the city, which we’re told appears to be CPD’s Grand Crossing and Wentworth police districts. But there weren’t enough cops on duty to handle the calls, so they sat in a so-called “backlog.”

The yellow calls have been waiting so long, they’ve stretched beyond the city’s time limit for dispatch — that’s 10 minutes for most important calls. And the red line? Oh, that call is a “crisis intervention” case. That call is yellow, too.

It’s not unusual for Chicago’s 911 calls to stack up in backlogs. CPD Supt. David Brown even called the situation “normal” last month.

Maybe. But what Brown certainly will not tell you is that he has decimated neighborhood police district staffing to put more cops on specialized units that patrol the city, leaving far fewer cops to handle 911 calls. Fewer cops. Longer waits. More yellow. You know, “normal.”

When Brown took over as CPD’s leader last April, the Wentworth District — one of those with calls pending in the picture above — was patrolled by 386 cops. As of this month, the district has 274. That’s according to Chicago’s Office of Inspector General.

The other district with calls pending in the picture, Grand Crossing, had 372 cops when Brown came to Chicago for his new job. Today, Grand Crossing has 282. Grand Crossing happens to be the fourth-worst CPD district for murders and shootings in the city this year — 28 dead, 149 wounded as of this morning, according to the statisticians at HeyJackass.com.

In fact, all of the city’s 10 most violent police districts have lost significant numbers of cops under Brown’s watch. So have all of the not-so-violent districts. Take a look at how staffing levels have changed in many of the districts. You’ll get a better understanding of why police dispatchers see a lot of yellow on their computer screens.

Where are all of the district cops going? According to the inspector general’s office, about 1,000 of them are now assigned to a pair of citywide patrol units that Brown created — the Critical Incident Response Team and Community Safety Team.

The Sun-Times recently reported that about 420 cops have retired so far this year — compared to 560 in all of last year, 475 total in 2019, and 339 for the full year in 2018. The city has only hired 288 new cops since January 2020 to replace the nearly 1,000 who’ve left, according to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, which represents front line officers in Chicago.

It may seem counterproductive for police leaders to remove cops from the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods to work on citywide teams. Of course, a simple solution would be to put citywide cops back in the districts they came from. So, of course, that’s the last thing CPD’s leaders will do. Instead, they’ve hatched a couple of harebrained ideas.

For one thing, they frequently require officers to work 12-hour shifts, sometimes with limited days off.

In their latest effort to patch things up, CPD leaders have created five “platoons” of officers who are normally assigned to work at department headquarters. For the next 90 days, those platoons will be rotating out of headquarters to patrol violent districts that have lost staffing to Brown’s massive citywide units.

Among the headquarters units that will be sending cops to patrol are the Bureau of Internal Affairs and “CPIC,” the city’s crime strategy nerve center, according to a CPD memo provided to CWBChicago.

Another “platoon” strategy involves officers who are responsible for training recruits at the police academy. Two CPD sources have told CWBChicago that the academy has had to cancel some training sessions for recruits because there aren’t enough officers available at the school to teach them. That’s because their teachers were ordered to go out and patrol the streets.

Hmm. Let’s see. Taking hundreds of cops out of districts, then reassigning other units to patrol the districts that are short-staffed? Now that’s “normal.”

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