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Chicago Is Spending $1.6 Billion on 13,000 Police. Is It Worth It? – With shootings and murders on the rise and President Trump sending federal agents to the city, community organizers and criminologists point to a police hiring spree from just four years ago to show that more cops on Chicago’s streets aren’t the answer.

Asi­a­ha But­ler walked into the Ellis Park field­house on Chicago’s South Side for a com­mu­ni­ty meet­ing on the Sat­ur­day before the Fourth of July. She was hop­ing to hear some­thing dif­fer­ent from local offi­cials about their plans for improv­ing pub­lic safety.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.”

Ear­li­er that after­noon, 1‑year-old Sin­cere Gas­ton died after being shot in the chest as he sat in the back­seat of his mom’s red sedan on their way home from a laun­dro­mat in the city’s Engle­wood neigh­bor­hood, also on the South Side. So far in 2020, 43 peo­ple have been mur­dered in the Engle­wood and West Engle­wood com­mu­ni­ties, a high­er homi­cide count than in the entire city of Oak­land, California.

Every mur­der, every shoot­ing hurts,” But­ler said. ​There’s no get­ting used to this.”

As head of the Res­i­dent Asso­ci­a­tion of Greater Engle­wood, But­ler, 44, was invit­ed to the field­house by city offi­cials to fig­ure out, along­side promi­nent local cler­gy and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers, how to stem the car­nage they all feared for the upcom­ing hol­i­day weekend.

But­ler attend­ed a sim­i­lar meet­ing in 2016, the city’s worst year for gun vio­lence in near­ly two decades. It didn’t take long for But­ler to real­ize that this year’s meet­ing start­ed to sound like a rerun.

I’m look­ing around this room and these are the same lead­ers as last time, talk­ing about the same ideas, and the city propos­ing the exact same strat­e­gy: More police on the street,” she said. ​And guess what? Fourth of July was just as dead­ly.”

With more than 400 mur­ders so far this year, Chica­go is on track to sur­pass its 2016 homi­cide rate. 

At the time, May­or Rahm Emanuel respond­ed by hir­ing over 1,000 new cops over two years. The esti­mat­ed cost in salaries, ben­e­fits and super­vi­sion for the new hires was more than $130 mil­lion in the first year, or well over $1 bil­lion in their first decade on the force. Emanuel’s admin­is­tra­tion defend­ed the cost­ly hir­ing spree by cit­ing an alleged ​top to bot­tom” analy­sis of the police depart­ment show­ing that the city need­ed hun­dreds of new cops.

But four years lat­er, attor­neys for the city say that staffing analy­sis is nowhere to be found.

Today, Chica­go has more sworn offi­cers per capi­ta than New York, Los Ange­les and Hous­ton. Salaries and over­time pay for those offi­cers take up almost all of the $1.65 bil­lion ear­marked for the police depart­ment in the city’s 2020 oper­at­ing bud­get, the largest police bud­get on record.

We hired all these new cops and for what? It feels like we’re back to square one,” But­ler said.

In a state­ment, May­or Lori Lightfoot’s office said Chica­go is com­mit­ted to address­ing the root caus­es of gun vio­lence beyond polic­ing. The mayor’s office tout­ed the Invest South/​West ini­tia­tive, which aims to bring $750 mil­lion to ten dis­tressed neigh­bor­hoods over the next three years. Lightfoot’s office also high­light­ed the city’s ​record-high invest­ments in street out­reach and trau­ma-informed vic­tims services.” 

But as the city faces an expect­ed $700 mil­lion bud­get short­fall due to the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, crim­i­nol­o­gists say more police offi­cers doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean less crime. And a grow­ing cadre of activists and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers are urg­ing May­or Light­foot to divest from the Chica­go Police Depart­ment so that the city can afford to try some­thing new.

Good and rea­son­able search’

When Emanuel took the podi­um at Mal­colm X Col­lege on Sept. 22, 2016, Chica­go had already sur­passed 500 mur­ders for the year and was aver­ag­ing 12 shoot­ings a day — lev­els of gun vio­lence the city hadn’t seen since the mid-1990s.

With news cam­eras rolling, Emanuel out­lined his plan to stop the blood­shed: The city would expand its men­tor­ship pro­grams, con­tin­ue to fund sum­mer youth jobs, and hire an extra 516 offi­cers, 92 field-train­ing offi­cers, 200 detec­tives, 112 sergeants, and 50 lieu­tenants in two years.

As big a prob­lem as gun vio­lence is for Chica­go, it is not beyond our abil­i­ty to solve. End­ing this string of tragedies is our top pri­or­i­ty as a city,” Emanuel said at Mal­colm X. ​We are infus­ing our police depart­ment with the man­pow­er, tech­nol­o­gy and train­ing to meet this chal­lenge head-on.”

The new hires would reverse the shrink­ing of the depart­ment that had tak­en place dur­ing Emanuel’s first term in office, when, in the face of a $500 mil­lion bud­get deficit, he allowed the num­ber of sworn offi­cers to dip below 12,000 for the first time since the mid-1980s.

But as the num­ber of cops fell, so did crime: Between 2011 and 2015, the num­ber of index crimes — which include mur­der, rob­bery, aggra­vat­ed assault, arson, bur­glary, and motor vehi­cle theft — dropped by 30%, accord­ing to an Injus­tice Watch analy­sis of CPD data report­ed to the FBI. (This analy­sis excludes rapes and sex­u­al offenses.)

When asked by the Chica­go Sun-Times why the city need­ed so many new cops, then-Supt. Eddie John­son said Emanuel based his deci­sion on a staffing analy­sis of the police department.

We did an over­all analy­sis of the depart­ment … and this is what I think we need to make Chica­go safer,” John­son told the news­pa­per a day before Emanuel’s speech at Mal­colm X.

The police depart­ment has yet to release a copy of the staffing analysis. 

They’ve so far refused to hand over or sim­ply can’t find any analy­sis they did to sup­port that hir­ing,” said Tra­cy Siska, direc­tor of the Chica­go Jus­tice Project, a watch­dog group that sued the depart­ment for not com­ply­ing with a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act request for the analy­sis.

Court records show the city first said the staffing analy­sis was part of a more exten­sive report on the police depart­ment con­duct­ed by an out­side law firm. The city argued that the report — and every­thing in it — should be off-lim­its to the pub­lic because of attor­ney-client privilege.

But last Decem­ber, Cook Coun­ty Cir­cuit Court Judge Car­o­line More­land reviewed that report and didn’t find the miss­ing staffing analy­sis, court records show. 

Ear­li­er this month, after con­duct­ing a ​good faith and rea­son­able search,” the city said in court that it couldn’t find the staffing analy­sis with­in the police department’s files.

The police depart­ment has a bur­den and an oblig­a­tion to pro­duce these records and it hasn’t,” said attor­ney Mer­rick Wayne of Loevy and Loevy, who rep­re­sents the Chica­go Jus­tice Project.

A spokesman for the Chica­go Police Depart­ment said the depart­ment deter­mines its staffing lev­els based on ​oper­a­tional needs as well as keep­ing up with attri­tion lev­els.” But with­out being privy to the rea­son­ing behind the department’s deci­sion-mak­ing, Chica­go could be spend­ing a lot more on polic­ing than it needs to, Siska said.

Staffing deci­sions around polic­ing are incred­i­bly expen­sive, and need to be done based on sci­ence, not pol­i­tics,” he said. ​Just imag­ine what can be done on the South and West sides with $1 bil­lion invest­ed over 10 years.”

The Chica­go Police Depart­ment is cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing a new staffing analy­sis as part of the con­sent decree it entered into with the Illi­nois Attor­ney General’s office last year. Accord­ing to a June report from Mar­garey Hick­ey, the court-appoint­ed inde­pen­dent mon­i­tor, the depart­ment has hired the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Crime Lab, the Civic Con­sult­ing Alliance and oth­er experts to per­form the analy­sis. The report does not indi­cate when the analy­sis will be completed.

Deep inter­ven­tions’

This year’s mur­der spike has some offi­cials again call­ing for a greater police pres­ence in Chicago.

Ear­li­er this month, Super­in­ten­dent David Brown near­ly dou­bled the Sum­mer Patrol Unit, which over­sees so-called crime ​hotspots” across the city, to more than 200 offi­cers and deployed the department’s Com­mu­ni­ty Safe­ty Team, made up of about 300 offi­cers, to areas of the South and West sides that have seen an uptick in crime. Brown also cre­at­ed an entire­ly new unit of 250 offi­cers called the Crit­i­cal Inci­dent Response Team to act as, in his words, a ​rov­ing strike force” when needed.

City Coun­cil mem­ber Chris Tal­i­a­fer­ro, a for­mer cop and chair of the council’s pub­lic safe­ty com­mit­tee, wants the depart­ment to res­ur­rect ​Oper­a­tion Impact Zone,” a con­tro­ver­sial pro­gram dis­band­ed in 2016 that placed foot patrols of young offi­cers in high-crime areas.

Mean­while, John Catan­zara, Jr., pres­i­dent of Chicago’s Fra­ter­nal Order of Police, the city’s rank-and-file police union, went so far as to request that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump send fed­er­al law enforce­ment to rein in ​the chaos cur­rent­ly affect­ing our city.” 

Trump even­tu­al­ly did send hun­dreds of FBI, DEA and ATF agents to Chica­go in late July — report­ed­ly with Lightfoot’s bless­ing. ​What we will receive is resources that are going to plug into the exist­ing fed­er­al agen­cies that we work with on a reg­u­lar basis to help man­age and sup­press vio­lent crime in our city,” the may­or told reporters last week.

But activists call­ing on Light­foot to defund the police say more cops on the street isn’t an answer to gun vio­lence. They point to a recent mass shoot­ing in Auburn Gre­sham, where 15 peo­ple were shot out­side a funer­al home — even though there were two police squad cars and a full tac­ti­cal team guard­ing the funer­al.

That the police were present near the funer­al breaks some of the myths peo­ple have of what polic­ing is, what it does, and what it can do. It’s evi­dence that more police are not going to pre­vent these shoot­ings,” said Damon Williams, 27, co-founder of the activist group #LetUs­Breathe Col­lec­tive, and an Auburn Gre­sham native.

Instead of more police fund­ing, Williams argues solv­ing Chicago’s gun vio­lence cri­sis will take years of invest­ments in social ser­vices like job train­ing and men­tal health counseling. 

When I hear of some­one shoot­ing up a funer­al, I think of PTSD, depres­sion, loss of jobs,” he said. ​We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.”

But­ler likes to refer to these kinds of invest­ments as ​deep inter­ven­tions”: Long-term com­mit­ments to strug­gling neigh­bor­hoods beyond pun­ish­ment and incarceration. 

In Engle­wood—after decades of the city tear­ing down thou­sands of homes, schools, and depart­ment stores with­out putting any­thing in their place—that means lit­er­al­ly build­ing parts of the neigh­bor­hood from the ground up, she said.

We need to help home­own­ers secure their homes, ini­tia­tives to get peo­ple work­ing on restor­ing and fill­ing aban­doned build­ings. We need to build new hous­ing,” she said.

Fund­ing for those ideas should come out of the police department’s cof­fers, accord­ing to Louisa Manske, pol­i­cy direc­tor at the Work­ers Cen­ter for Racial Jus­tice in Bronzeville and lead author of a pro­pos­al call­ing for Chica­go to cut its police bud­get by $900 mil­lion with­in three years. 

The cuts would bring the city’s per capi­ta spend­ing on polic­ing, cur­rent­ly at more than $600 per res­i­dent, ​just under the cur­rent aver­age spent among the nation’s top ten most pop­u­lous cities,” accord­ing to the proposal.

The city could rein­vest most of that mon­ey — $700 mil­lion — into hous­ing, pub­lic health and fam­i­ly and sup­port ser­vices under the pro­pos­al. The rest would estab­lish a ​Com­mu­ni­ty Safe­ty Unit” focused on emer­gen­cies that don’t require police and take up the bulk of 911 calls like men­tal health crises, traf­fic inci­dents and fil­ing crime inci­dent reports.

Three years might seem dras­tic,” Manske said, ​but the city is in a state of emergency.”

A more grad­ual approach to defund­ing the police could be to replace sworn offi­cers who spend most of their day at a desk with non-dep­u­tized civilians. 

It’s a lot cheap­er to hire and train civil­ians to do those jobs,” said Wes­ley Sko­gan, a North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty crim­i­nol­o­gist and an expert on the Chica­go Police Department.

The city could also stop hir­ing new police offi­cers as old­er ones retire. ​With­in 10 years, you’d cut the depart­ment in half,” Sko­gan said. ​You can use that pot of mon­ey to jump­start oth­er pro­grams that take respon­si­bil­i­ties away from the police every year.”

John Hage­dorn, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go crim­i­nol­o­gist and an expert on gang vio­lence, said the city needs new, inno­v­a­tive solu­tions to address gun vio­lence away from policing. 

The stan­dard answer is that when you have a rise in crime, you should hire more cops, but the idea that more cops will mean few­er crimes is an old way of think­ing,” he said. 

There’s no data that sup­ports that.”

An either/​or proposition?

Unlike may­ors in cities like Min­neapo­lis, Seat­tle and Los Ange­les, Light­foot isn’t inter­est­ed in defund­ing the police, derid­ing the move­ment as sim­ply ​a nice hash­tag.”

One of Lightfoot’s main argu­ments against the move­ment is that reduc­ing the police department’s size would wors­en job prospects for Blacks and Lat­inx people. 

When you’re talk­ing about defund­ing the police, you’re talk­ing about…eliminating one of the few tools that the city has to cre­ate mid­dle-class incomes for Black and Brown folks. Nobody talks about that in the dis­cus­sion to defund the police,” Light­foot told The New York Times in June.

Light­foot also argues Chica­go can keep the police bud­get intact while also upping the fund­ing for social ser­vices. ​The invest­ments that we are com­mit­ted to mak­ing in vio­lence reduc­tion, in men­tal health, in afford­able hous­ing and work­force devel­op­ment; we need to make those invest­ments, peri­od, and we’ve com­mit­ted to that,” Light­foot told reporters in June.

For me, it’s not an either/​or proposition.” 

But Manske said Chica­go could hire Black and Lat­inx res­i­dents to fill the jobs cre­at­ed by shift­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties away from police. ​It’s an indict­ment on this city that one of the few options to achieve mid­dle-class sta­tus is for Black and Lat­inx peo­ple to join the police. That should be an incen­tive for us to invest in oth­er areas, not a rea­son to keep doing what we’re doing,” she said.

Activists say Lightfoot’s attempt to keep fund­ing the police depart­ment at its cur­rent lev­els while rais­ing mon­ey for more social pro­grams is a non-starter.

We don’t want [Light­foot] to do both, because the police take up so much of our city’s bud­get and also per­pe­trate vio­lence in our com­mu­ni­ties,” said Des­tiny Har­ris, a 19-year-old orga­niz­er with activist groups #NoCo­pAcad­e­my and Dis­senters, who grew up in the West Side neigh­bor­hood of Austin. 

If we keep pour­ing mon­ey into the police instead of things that address the root caus­es of vio­lence,” she said, ​we’re going to keep get­ting the same results.”

This sto­ry was pro­duced in part­ner­ship withInjus­tice Watch.


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