A top CPD leader canceled days off for the city’s cops over the upcoming weekend, and sources indicate the reason is that positive COVID tests have decimated the department’s active force.
In fact, the union representing front-line Chicago cops estimates 2,600 officers are currently out for medical reasons. Before COVID, the medical absence number usually hovered around 1,000, according to the union.
If the union’s estimate is accurate, that would mean about 20% of the city’s police force is out on medical leave. Cops who test positive for COVID are required to take ten days off.
The COVID surge is driven by a few factors, according to officers who spoke with CWBChicago. One source said some recent holiday parties became superspreader events that infected dozens of cops. More than 30 detectives were wiped out for ten days by one such event, according to the source.
And, it turns out, some overworked cops see COVID as an opportunity to get time off that the police department won’t give them any other way.
“Some [police officers] are getting tested just to get tested and have ten days off when they have no symptoms,” said one cop. “It’s the only way some can get time off because of seniority.”
“I’m sure some are licking doorknobs hoping for time off,” said another.
On the city’s Northwest Side, the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District recently had more than 50 cops out due to COVID, according to information provided to CWBChicago. That would put the COVID rate right at 20% for the district, which had 229 officers assigned to it in December.
An officer in another district said 27 cops were out with COVID from one of its three shifts plus the tactical unit. If the other two shifts have a similar rate of illness, that district’s COVID absence number would also be almost exactly 20% of its latest headcount.
There is reportedly another problem, too. CPD’s medical unit has been overwhelmed by the volume of work generated by the new COVID wave.
“All the voice and email boxes were full at the medical section, so people couldn’t contact them to make arrangements to get released from the medical and return to work,” a knowledgeable source said.
Another storm coming
The police department’s staffing problems may not go away when COVID subsides.
Public records show CPD’s force shrank from 12,720 officers in December 2020 to 11,913 last month, a loss of 807 cops. The police union said the loss is slightly higher: 893 cops exited with 717 retirements and 176 more resigning and transferring to other departments.
By comparison, the department had 560 retirements in 2020, 475 in 2019, and 339 in 2018, according to the Sun-Times.
The losses are expected to continue as about 900 cops have announced their intentions to retire this year, with between 400 and 500 slated to exit this month.
CPD’s recruiting efforts have not been keeping pace with departures as fewer people are applying for the job and even fewer take the tests required to advance in the hiring process.
“More b******t PCIs”
With fewer cops on the street, you might think that CPD leaders would use their resources to tackle the most serious crime issues facing the city now — shootings, carjackings, and the like.
But it turns out that they are even more concerned with something called a PCI, that’s short for “positive community interaction.” Lightfoot and Brown made a big deal about PCIs during a press conference this year and pledged that officers would document 1.5 million of them this year — up from 500,000 last year.
What’s a PCI? Nothing more than a cop having some sort of engagement with a person on the street that they deem to be positive. Like most management gimmicks, it’s nonsense, and the front-line troops know it.
“Gimme two more of those b******t PCIs and put me clear,” a sergeant told a dispatcher this week, using rarely-heard foul language on a police radio frequency.
In another district, officers stopped to create a PCI while on their way to handle a domestic incident.
Yesterday evening, three cops who are usually assigned to work at headquarters were ordered to work in Englewood instead. What were they doing in one of the city’s infamously violent neighborhoods?
They were sitting at a gas station for over six hours, generating piles of PCIs.
A note from a CPD supervisor to the district’s patrol car computers said, “Beat H112 from HQ … will be a 3 man car fixed post 67/Halsted cranking out PCIs til [2 a.m.]”
An assignment like that might be enough to make some cops lick doorknobs.