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Will a thousand more police on Chicago streets help keep down murders?

Chicago authorities hope the biggest force increase in a generation will inject new life into a demoralized, scandal-plagued department.

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    Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson (l.) and First Deputy Superintendent John Escalante arrive to speak to the media about patrolling a neighborhood while wearing body cameras in Chicago on May 6, 2016.
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Faced with a surge in violence, the scandal-plagued Chicago Police Department is planning to add 970 new officers to the force, in the biggest round of hiring in three decades.

Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Wednesday that some 516 new officers, 92 field training officers, 200 detectives, 112 sergeants, and 50 lieutenants will join a department currently staffed with about 12,000 officers, according to the Associated Press.

“When I sat down as superintendent, one of the first things everybody asked me was, ‘Did we have enough police officers?’” said department superintendent Eddie Johnson in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “We did an overall analysis of the department.... I took a real hard look at it and this is what I think we need to make Chicago safer," he said.

"It’s going to cost. But there’s no price for the safety of this city," said Superintendent Johnson.

The hires may prove the most significant step taken by the police force in response to the more than 500 homicides committed in the city this year, a 46 percent increase from 2015 and on pace to exceed the rate of any year since 2003. Other violent crimes are on the rise, too: criminal sexual assaults have gone up 18 percent and robberies 27 percent, according to police department data cited by USA Today.

This week, The Christian Science Monitor’s Gretel Kauffman reported that Chicago police were also implementing new training methods aimed at teaching officers how to resolve tense situations without using violence.

As a national focus on policing techniques intensifies in the wake of a series of highly publicized officer-involved shootings, a number of police departments, like Chicago, are beginning to rethink and remodel their training techniques. Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, and others have adjusted their training models to emphasize de-escalation tactics in an effort to reduce the number of incidents involving force.

As one of the first to shift training tactics to emphasize de-escalation, the Dallas Police Department saw a dramatic decrease in arrests, excessive force complaints, and officer-involved shootings between 2009 and 2015. Some experts praised Dallas for its new training techniques, urging other departments to follow suit. 

Those who are hesitant to fully embrace the tactics taught through de-escalation training often express concerns that the techniques, particularly the emphasis on talking before taking action, may not do enough to protect officers in dangerous situations.   

The new hires also mark a change of heart for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has relied on overtime pay over new hires as a way of keeping down costs. And as the Chicago Tribune noted in May, Mr. Emanuel is one in a long line of mayors that have assented to police union demands for increasing protections from scrutiny, in exchange for less pressure on raising officers’ pay.

Those protections, which include a state law requiring citizens to sign sworn affidavits before filing abuse complaints, and a provision requiring internal investigators to notify officers of complainants’ names before officers are questioned, have come under intense criticism since the release of a dashcam video showing teenager Laquan McDonald being shot over a dozen times by a Chicago police officer as he walked away from police.

The new officers will cost the city an estimated $134 million per year, according to the Tribune, creating potential difficulties for a mayor who has already raised property taxes to pay for pensions for police, teachers, and firemen. But after several years in which police retirements have well outpaced new hires, the move will put the number of city police at about the same level as that of 2011. 

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