Though Mayor Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly claimed that he’s been making big investments in public safety, the number of Chicago police officers has dropped in the last three months, and the force is now more than 700 officers short of where it was five years ago.
Most recently, during a widely-covered press conference Monday, Emanuel listed police staffing as one of the major accomplishments of his first 100 days, claiming to have moved “nearly 750 additional officers to Chicago’s neighborhoods.”
The mayor's announcement made for smart politics, but the police ranks are actually shrinking. Last October, 11,178 police officers were on the city payroll. By June, shortly after Emanuel took office, that number had dropped to 10,923. As of earlier today, it was down a tad more, to 10,918, according to payroll data.
You can see a chart of the numbers here. It includes the totals for rank-and-file cops and, for the sake of comparison, ranking officers and a few other positions.
Of course, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, even in policing.
Additional cops can result in more “quality of life” arrests that look to some people like harassment, as WBEZ’s Rob Wildeboer reported this morning. Ben Joravsky and I have written about the way low-level marijuana possession is enforced almost exclusively in black neighborhoods.
Police chief Garry McCarthy has pledged to make “quality of life” arrests a priority.
Emanuel and McCarthy have also pointed out that having more cops isn’t the same as deploying them properly. In June they announced that they were redeploying 150 officers from administrative duties to the street. Last month they announced they were moving 39 more from office jobs to work in the community.
That might be good news—if the officers weren’t doing any administrative tasks that actually helped prevent or solve crimes. Despite promoting its record on transparency, the Emanuel administration has not said what the officers' previous assignments were. The police department also refuses to discuss details of police deployments.
Desks-to-streets announcements are right out of the big-city political playbook. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley made them when pressure mounted for greater police visibility but he didn’t have money to hire more cops.
In fact, if anyone should take credit for a decline in the number of police employees who aren’t patrolling the beat, it’s Daley. The number of police supervisors, administrators, and support staff shrank 14 percent between 2006 and 2010. In 2006, for example, the police department had 15 assistant superintendents, deputy superintendents, and assistant deputy superintendents on the payroll. By last fall there were only 9. Now there are 8.
Also, I’m not the first to note this, but of the 750 “additional” officers Emanuel claims to have mobilized, 500 were already on the street—working in special units created to move into high-crime areas as needed. These kinds of units are favored by many departments, in part because they’re viewed as more efficient and cost-effective. On the other hand, they also tend to know and engage people in the community less than traditional beat cops.
In addition, "redeployments" represent a shift from the sort of investments Emanuel promised before he took office. Last November he floated a dubious proposal to hire 250 officers with tax increment financing funds. During his campaign he repeatedly said he would find a way to add 1,000 new officers.
And shortly before being sworn in he again suggested that he planned to grow the police force: “Investing in Chicago’s police ranks has a direct impact on community safety,” declared his transition report, which he described as a list of priorities for his administration. “Research suggests that each 10% increase in the size of the police force reduces violent crime by 4% and property crimes by 5%. In fact, each extra dollar spent on policing can generate up to $8 in long-term savings.”
However, out of the 750 "new" officers he's announced so far, about 50 are to be new hires. They won't go far far toward beefing up the department—since 2006 retirements and other unfilled positions have reduced the force by 743 officers, or about 6 percent.
Emanuel's press secretary, Chris Mather, said she didn't know enough to comment. "I haven't seen the data," she said.
I sent the numbers to her. She hasn't responded.
Incidentally, while Emanuel hasn’t talked as much about the fire department or Office of Emergency Management Communications, they’re both thinner than they were a few months ago too—the fire department by 53 people, or about 1 percent, and OEMC by 30 people, or 2 percent.
That may not be a bad thing. Chicago has more firefighters per capita than other big cities, and OEMC has not exactly been a model of efficiency.