Aldermen from across the city are demanding that Mayor Lori Lightfoot restore cuts to a community policing program that once was a national model before being left to wither because of inadequate training, insufficient funding and incessant bureaucratic shuffling.
Lightfoot’s proposed 2020 budget reduces spending for the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Community Policing by $381,936 — roughly 7%. Sixteen jobs will be eliminated, including 13 community organizers.
First Deputy Police Superintendent Anthony Riccio tried to soften the blow, saying all 16 jobs are already vacant.
Aldermen were not appeased.
“You talk a lot about building trust with the communities and that technology can’t do it all. But if the budget is knocking down 16 positions in community policing, that says something entirely different,” North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) told Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.
Osterman wondered how much gang violence might have been avoided on the South and West Sides if “a community policing officer” had been “engaging with residents, engaging with youth, engaging with churches, non-profits and community organizations.”
“That’s gonna help us re-build the trust that is the ballgame,” Osterman said.
“I don’t want to belabor the point. I don’t want to argue the point. Here’s what I want. What I want is for your department to put together how you would use those 16 positions if they’re in the budget for next year.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, says talking about “how well we want to do in engaging with the community” doesn’t jibe with cutting 16 positions.
“District law enforcement is down. CAPS is down. Detectives are down. Crisis intervention is down. Organized crime is down. … Help me to understand how the vision of the department equates to the document that’s before us,” Ervin said.
Johnson promised to take another look at the community policing cuts and “see if we need to readjust somewhere.”
“I know there are certain cuts in the document. I do know, too, that some of those cuts are vacant positions that were never filled. … So we’re not losing anything. Those were just positions that were there and haven’t been utilized,” Johnson said.
After a two-year hiring surge that added 1,000 officers, CPD is now treading water, hoping to hire only enough officers to keep pace with an expected 550 retirements this year and next, Johnson said.
With help from the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, Johnson said CPD is “in the midst of a manpower analysis that will help us ensure that the officers we brought in have been deployed to the areas of greatest need.”
“It’s important to recognize that, because we have grown the department, we have to look at where everyone is and ensure that we’re using them as efficiently as we can,” Johnson said.
In 2017, an advisory committee created by Johnson proposed a top-to-bottom overhaul of Chicago’s moribund community policing program.
Johnson followed through by appointing Dwayne Betts as deputy chief for community policing, reporting directly to the superintendent.
But little progress was made on other changes, including: training officers in “cultural diversity and competency, active listening and effective community engagement tactics”; creating a citywide Youth Advisory Council and similar councils in each of CPD’s 22 districts; and giving each district an unspecified number of officers and civilians devoted exclusively to community policing.
In June, Lightfoot took another baby step.
She designated a “business liaison officer” in each district to make certain local businesses know the rules and get a chance to solve problems before City Hall brings the hammer down.
Lightfoot acknowledged then more work was needed to revitalize a once-trail-blazing community policing program that became a political football — shifting from bureau to bureau, then to the superintendent’s office, then back again, with an insufficient budget.
“This is just a piece of it. … We need to do a much better job of getting individual community members back into beat meetings,” she said.
“At its core, community policing means breaking down the barriers between police and members of the community. That’s gonna look different in every community because the needs are different. The assets and the opportunities are different. “
Also during Monday’s hearing, aldermen were told that CPD expects to spend $141 million on police overtime this year.
Officials hope to reduce that by finally implementing electronic time-keeping and requiring “only district commanders and above” to authorize overtime.
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