Vallas: Police overtime shows defunding police doesn’t work

Vallas: Police overtime shows defunding police doesn’t work

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s strategy for defunding the police doesn’t save money and makes Chicago less safe. Overtime is up, violent crime is up, arrests are down.

If Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and his City Council supporters think “defunding the police” will save money to be used for other city needs, they need to think again. Not only are the cost savings non-existent, but the effects are scaring and scarring Chicagoans.

The city can only cut so many police officer vacancies and positions. Any savings is offset by the dramatic increase in overtime costs.

According to WTTW Chicago, the Chicago Police Department spent $293 million on overtime in 2023. Police overtime in 2023 was 40% higher than in 2022 and almost three times the $100 million for police overtime set by the Chicago City Council in the city’s 2023 budget.

This came as Johnson has been vigorously eliminating police vacancies – reducing budgeted positions by 833.

CPD is now operating with at least 1,447 fewer officers than in 2019 when former Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office. Similarly, overtime was $153.5 million higher than – or 52% above – 2019 spending.

Fewer officers is a major factor in the 50% drop in annual arrests since 2019 and in the rise of violent crime incidents overall. Arrest rates for violent crimes in 2023 were 11%. Unfortunately for Chicagoans, it is highly unlikely a perpetrator of a crime will ever be caught, even in murder cases.

The lack of officers is also directly to blame for the dramatic increase in the number of high-priority 911 calls for which the CPD had no squad car available – up to 52% in 2023 from 19% in 2019.

Meanwhile the SAFE-T Act’s elimination of cash bail will put even more violent criminals back on the street.

Things will only get worse with the mayor’s decision to end ShotSpotter, but conveniently not until after the Democratic National Convention. ShotSpotter allowed police to respond quickly to reports of shots fired, which often deterred further violence and ensured much faster access to medical assistance for those shot.

ShotSpotter’s value of bringing police and medical support to a potential crime site is proven. During the past five years, 125 lives have been saved at ShotSpotter alert locations, according to testimony at the 2023 budget hearing for the Chicago Police Department.

“Defunding the police” is also manifesting itself in the mayor-appointed Chicago Board of Education decision to remove police from schools. That despite Chicago leading the nation in mass shootings for school-aged children with 76 killed.

Supporters’ desire to reap the financial benefits of shifting money from the police budget to their programs has no merit. The fact is, spending on CPD is less than 12% of the city budget. Almost five times as much money is spent on Chicago Public Schools than is spent on the Chicago Police.

The delays in 911 response times, the dismal arrest rates and the pre-trial release program that returns three-fourths of those charged with felonies to the streets are impacting all communities. Low-income communities are harmed the most. In 2022, almost 80% of those murdered were Black.

Instead of eliminating positions, Chicago should use the funds that would have gone to overtime to ensure all police beats are covered by patrol cars that can respond to 911 calls quickly. The city could also save money and make policing more effective by taking spending on private, untrained and unarmed transit security teams and putting it toward hiring hundreds of CPD public transit officers who would be specifically selected and trained for that assignment. This would extend community policing to public transportation by having enough police officers to monitor public transit stations and to patrol platforms.

A 2019 Gallup poll showed 68% of adults living in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods want an increased police presence. Yet Johnson and his supporters can’t help themselves: their “defund the police” dogma is harming residents while not saving the city any money for the things they’d rather fund.

Restoring police strength must be a priority. Anything else is failure.

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