The Chicago Police Department is losing cops at an “almost alarming” rate, and the city is having a hard time finding replacements. That’s the word from John O’Malley, the deputy mayor for public safety.
O’Malley, other CPD leaders, and local politicians spoke Wednesday evening on a Zoom meeting organized by East Lakeview Neighbors (ELVN).
In another highlight, State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (6th) told participants that she is working on a “pack of bills” to address concerns with the state’s year-old, 600-plus page justice reform legislation.
“A very hard struggle”
O’Malley, a Chicago native who spent 25 years with the U.S. Marshals Service and once led its Chicago-based office, became Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s public safety deputy last May.
And, while CPD’s loss of officers is not news for CWBChicago readers, O’Malley’s blunt talk about what the city is facing was a rare peek behind the city’s curtain.
“I can tell you there is a significant, almost alarming reduction in the number of police officers in the city of Chicago,” O’Malley told the Lakeview group. He pointed to retirements and “a very hard struggle right now to recruit and retain officers.”
“We have officers with 15 years on the job, 20 years on the job, walking into human resources in the Chicago Police Department, turning in their badges, and walking off the job. I’ve never seen that before. It’s happening.”
Public records show CPD’s force shrank from 12,720 officers in December 2020 to 11,900 at the beginning of this month. The losses are expected to continue as about 900 cops have announced their intentions to retire this year, with more expected to transfer to other departments and agencies.
Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) echoed O’Malley’s concerns and suggested the quality of incoming officers may be lacking.
“There’s more retirements than recruits, and we’re diluting, in my opinion, the quality of people taking the [CPD hiring] exam and ultimately getting into the police department,” Tunney said.
Other police departments are having a hard time keeping up with attrition, too, according to O’Malley.
“The profession of law enforcement is the only profession that I know of that has been scrutinized top to bottom for the last 5 to 6 years and the vast majority of the time scrutinized, dissected, and criticized by people who’ve never once done the job … but [they think] they know all about it,” said O’Malley.
“Pack of bills”
Feigenholtz’s appearance on Wednesday was her second of the month on crime-related calls sponsored by ELVN. In the earlier session, she told a capacity crowd that legislators “are looking very closely to some of the reforms that we enacted” with the state’s massive 2021 criminal justice reform bill.
“It’s a big bill, and we’re gonna have to go back and make a lot of changes and remediate,” Feigenholtz said during the January 6 meeting.
On Wednesday, she dabbled in a couple of specific goals, but not many.
On Wednesday, she said she was working on a “pack of bills” to address “many of the things that have been brought to our attention.”
While light on specifics, Feignholtz suggested “redefining a couple of offenses.” She linked that idea to the recent arrests of five people in Rogers Park who were found in a parking garage with two newly-carjacked vehicles and a third stolen car. Prosecutors only charged one of the men with a felony — and it wasn’t vehicular hijacking.
Individuals arrested for being inside hijacked vehicles are often charged with less serious crimes like misdemeanor criminal trespass to a vehicle if victims cannot specifically identify them as one of the carjackers.
“We’re also going to be looking at pretrial, coming up with a list of non-bailable pretrial offenses,” Feigenholtz said.
The criminal justice reform bill that she and other elected officials passed into law last year eliminates cash bail at the beginning of 2023.
“When we talked about no bail, we did not create a list of offenses,” Feigenholtz continued, “and I think prior to the bail portion … going into effect, that that’s something that we’re going to have to hopefully remediate and define.”
She did not identify any specific crimes that might go on her proposed list.
“We have to talk about justice and safety in the same conversation,” Feigenholtz said.
Later in the call, O’Malley urged viewers to find a copy of the criminal justice reform that legislators enacted — particularly the elimination of cash bail.
Speaking of people who are accused of committing new crimes while on release for other crimes, O’Malley struck a somber note: “I think you’ll find the 16-year-old who just killed in cold blood that 8-year-old girl at 26th and Pulaski was not where he should be. So, I’ll leave that alone.”
“We know crime is happening in LA, San Francisco, Atlanta, you name the city,” said O’Malley. “But you know what I found? People in Chicago don’t really care what’s happening elsewhere in the country. They wanna know what’s happening here in Chicago and more specifically what’s happening on their block, their neighborhood, their ZIP code.”