Vallas: Fewer cops is how mayor plans to make Chicago safer?
The Johnson administration is playing a shell game on public safety. They’re likely hiring civilians for administrative positions to free up officers at local police districts, yet they’re eliminating more than double the amount of police positions currently vacant.
We finally have the answer to whether Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson plans to fill police vacancies: He does not.
Johnson’s recently passed budget will eliminate 833 street-cop vacancies.
That’s not the only hit to officer strength in the mayor’s budget. The city has so-far failed to take steps to slow police officer attrition and aggressively recruit candidates to fill current and future police vacancies. Plus, the city may turn 400 remaining police vacancies into civilian positions.
The Johnson administration is playing a shell game on public safety. They’re likely hiring civilians for administrative positions to free up officers at local police districts, yet they’re eliminating more than double the amount of police positions currently vacant. They plan to address the serious detective shortage by promoting a paltry 100 officers, taking away 100 officers who could be deployed to local districts.
Johnson will point out he has increased funding for police. That increase is thanks to the retroactive pay increase that boosted police salaries, and the cost of the new contract. Plus, large sums are spent on police overtime – over $200 million this year – primarily because of police shortages. Absent any contract-related salary increases and excessive overtime, spending for the police budget is down.
The impact of the police shortages has been well documented. Over 50% of high priority 911 calls had no officer available, up from 19% in 2019. Arrests were made in fewer than 12% of all crimes in 2022. Arrests between 2019 and 2021 were down 50%.
While there are many factors that contribute to the rise and fall of violent crime, police officer strength is the most critical. We saw that during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first term.
When Emanuel restored public safety positions, adding 1,500 police officers and firefighters between 2017-2019 after a dramatic spike in murders, the number of murders quickly plummeted. When Mayor Lori Lightfoot eliminated 614 positions and failed to fill over 1,000 officer vacancies between 2019-2022, the number of murders and other violent crimes predictably and dramatically increased.
Chicagoans can see the problem. A full 66% of city voters in an October Lincoln Poll said they disapproved of how Johnson was handling crime, and disapproval cut across party lines. More cops on the streets was the hope of 3 in 4 – the opposite of Johnson’s actions. A RealClear Opinion Research survey showed 77% of Black Chicagoans want to see as many or more police in their communities. Close to the 80% of all Chicagoans answered the same way. Chicagoans implicitly feel there is a severe shortage of officers.
Expect Johnson’s progressive supporters to continue to press for less police funding despite the fact the city spends only 12% of the city’s budget – and about 7% of all the combined city and agency budgets the mayor controls – on the Chicago Police Department.
Restoring police strength must be part of a true community-based policing strategy in which each local police beat is covered by officers who know and are known to the community and respond to 911 calls in real time. Police beats must include Chicago Transit Authority stations and train platforms. This requires not only restoring police strength but assigning more than 54% of its officers to police districts.