After armed robbery crews swept across the downtown late last month, striking five times on July 27, then robbing 14 more people two days later, Chicago police leaders did the unthinkable: They took most of the city’s robbery detectives away from their investigations to patrol Lollapalooza.
For more than 3 straight minutes Sunday morning, a Chicago police dispatcher read out dozens of 911 calls waiting to be assigned to police officers in their district — but no officers were available. A “shots fired” call was 178 minutes old. A robbery was waiting for more than two hours. A domestic waiting for more than three hours. A 115-minute wait for a burglary.
After a series of bump-n-run carjackings broke out this week, one of the victims’ automakers contacted CPD to help them locate the stolen car. CPD told the car company that the assigned investigators don’t work on Sundays and Monday.
On August 15, a man fell to the ground, critically wounded with multiple gunshot wounds on the 5100 block of West Fullerton. For six minutes, not a single cop was available to respond, even though an officer who monitors CPD’s surveillance cameras confirmed that there was a shooting victim on the ground.
Welcome to Chicago 2021, where police leaders have pulled several hundred cops from local districts to form a “Community Safety Team” that’s supposed to build relationships with citizens. But the move has left local districts grossly understaffed, driving up response times when people are in their greatest need.
“It would be better to re-staff the districts so beats are patrolled and calls are answered instead of these useless [community interactions,” one frustrated CPD insider said this week. “Cops are planting flowers and cleaning alleys. People are calling 911 for help and waiting over an hour. That’s not a very positive experience for them.”
Listen to this audio clip of pending 911 calls from Sunday morning, spotted by the widely-followed @Chicago_Scanner Twitter account. Ask yourself if any of those citizens are likely to have a positive impression of the Chicago Police Department after waiting hours to get some help:
When a reporter asked CPD Supt. David Brown about the department’s slow response times earlier this summer, he said it’s “normal.”
At 5:53 a.m. on August 15, a ShotSpotter gunfire detection system alerted an officer in a CPD nerve center on the West Side to fourteen rounds fired at 5156 West Fullerton. The cop notified the dispatcher, who repeated it. Fourteen rounds fired. 5156 West Fullerton on the corner. A minute later, “shots fired” calls started coming in from citizens. Thirty seconds later, a “person shot” call at the same location.
But the dispatcher never assigned the call to anyone. She didn’t have anyone to give it to.
“Fire’s on scene at that shooting,” an officer assigned to the local district’s front desk said four minutes after the ShotSpotter alert. “We got a car available or no?”
“Negative, sir,” the dispatcher said. “We don’t have any…Are they out of roll call yet?”
“They haven’t even started roll call yet.”
At 5:59 a.m., a sergeant tells the dispatcher he’ll head over to the shooting from the station. Five minutes after that, another officer heads that way.
The victim, a 38-year-old man, was critically wounded, police would later say.
Every single police district, even the city’s most violent, has lost significant numbers of officers since Brown took over as superintendent in April 2020.
Sometimes entire shifts are being handled by fewer than 20 cops. After we reported last month that the Central District, which includes the Loop and South Loop, was being patrolled by just 18 cops on a recent shift, we received a copy of the next night’s schedule for the district. There were only 13 cops working the streets that night.
The city’s second-worst police district for murders and shootings, Englewood, has recently operated with a third of its beat cars idle due to lack of staffing, according to schedules reviewed by CWBChicago.
While Brown’s decision to move beat cops to citywide units is a big part of the department’s problems, CPD’s overall workforce is falling sharply, too — from 13,011 cops when he started to about 12,200 cops this month, according to the city’s inspector general.
To help fill the gap, Brown is pulling detectives away from their cases at least two days a week to babysit high-crime corners and, yes, walk around the Lollapalooza festival.
“This has been happening for months with no end in sight,” an officer said. “Each of the five areas is being forced to do this.”
“Detectives are falling behind on investigations,” the source continued. “It might not seem like a big deal, but some detectives are deployed out three or four days of the week. Cases aren’t given the proper attention needed.” Photo line-ups and searches for video evidence are critically delayed, the cop said.
That officer’s claims are supported by stories CWBChicago has received from violent crime victims directly.
One victim of the July robbery spree couldn’t believe his ears when — nine days after he was held up at gunpoint — a detective finally got in touch with him and offered an apology for the delayed follow-up.
“He was assigned to other duties and was not serving as a detective for the entire week,” the victim told us. “Lollapalooza? I didn’t ask.”
No one has been charged with any of the robberies.
A recent carjacking victim asked a CWBChicago staffer this week if he should expect to hear back from detectives quickly. Our guy told him not to get his hopes up.
“You weren’t kidding,” the man wrote back a few hours later. “[His auto maker] called us to say they’re tracking the vehicle, but beyond verifying the car is stolen, nobody at CPD will assist or even take location data. They were told ‘the guys handling carjacking don’t work Sunday or Monday, call back tomorrow.'”
Good luck then, too.