The Policy Shop: Why 911 doesn’t respond in Chicago

The Policy Shop: Why 911 doesn’t respond in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has a lot of plans to change the social order, but what he doesn’t have is a plan for how to stanch the city’s literal or figurative bleeding.

Without law and order, people and businesses will continue to flee: 32,990 people in 2022, plus major businesses over crime and taxes.

Chicago’s overall crime in 2022 was down 29% compared to a decade ago, but the violent crimes were up. The city saw about 200 more homicides last year than a decade before. There were peaks in assaults and motor vehicle thefts.

The Rev. Ron Kooyman of the Cicero Bible Church came to Chicago 30 years ago to work with inner-city youth. He moved his family out of the city after his neighbor was murdered putting up Christmas lights.

“When I moved here, it was rare in the news to hear about smash and grabs or several people in one neighborhood being robbed at gunpoint or somebody not involved in a gang having been shot and killed,” Kooyman said. “Now that I’m 66, I think twice about what I would do if somebody confronted me. I think we’re also not being as well protected. I know I’ve called 911 and that doesn’t do much good. I mean, why stay in the big city if you’re not feeling safe?”

Kooyman is not alone is calling for help and finding none. Police shortages result in over half of high-priority 911 calls going unanswered.

There are 1,700 fewer officers than before Lori Lightfoot became mayor, and under Johnson there are over 1,000 police vacancies and no strategy for filling them.

Besides the unanswered 911 calls, fewer officers is a major factor in why there’s been an over 50% drop in annual arrests since 2019. Arrests were made in only 57% of the murders in 2022, down from 72% in 2019.

What Johnson did propose in his new budget was to add almost 400 police civilian jobs, while refusing to address if they’ll ever fill the vacant 1,000 police positions, much less get back all 1,700 officers.

He said adding civilian jobs will “give others an opportunity to serve … without necessarily being a police officer.”

That’s a nice idea, but not when police cannot get to emergency calls. The surgeon doesn’t prioritize a nose job when there’s an abdominal gunshot wound.

Johnson’s proposal increases the Chicago Police budget slightly to $1.74 billion. Johnson wants to more than double community policing but is cutting patrol by 294 officers and also cutting gang, drugs, vice, SWAT, traffic and asset forfeiture.

The cut in gang intelligence is worrisome. Of the 725 homicides last year, 214 were determined to be motivated by gang activity.

Like that surgeon treating the belly wound, Johnson has a lot of choices that should be a lot clearer than he makes them out to be.

He allocated $150 million for migrants next year, but that’s a fantasy number considering he’s expected to spend $361 million by the end of this year. He also decided to spend $226 million on the schools of his former employer, the Chicago Teachers Union, plus pick up an additional $45 million in pension costs for the school district’s non-teacher employees.

Instead of spending so much on migrant care and on the union buddies who got him elected, imagine if long-neglected neighborhoods on the South and West sides received that kind of investment and protection.

Johnson may well get his new social order, but there’s not a lot to indicate it will be the utopia Chicagoans want.

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