Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spared the knife

Posted By on 05.17.12 at 10:10 AM

Under Mayor Emanuel, Chicago has fewer cops and other front-line workers
  • Tonika Johnson
  • Under Mayor Emanuel, Chicago has fewer cops and other front-line workers

City officials are busy trying to reassure Chicago residents that their neighborhoods are still going to have police protection over the next week, even though hundreds of officers have been sent downtown for the NATO summit.

“You’ll have the same cops on the same beats in the same neighborhoods,” police superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters.

It’s good to hear. Unfortunately, it isn’t what most of us would think of as true, since, as police tell me, all of the city’s tactical officers—the plainclothes guys who specialize in stuff like drug busts and robbery investigations in the neighborhoods—will be on NATO-related duty.

With overtime pay, it’s possible that the total number of cops will stay roughly the same in the districts. But they won’t all be doing what they normally do.

And another, bigger part of the equation isn’t being discussed at all: the inconvenient fact that there are fewer cops available for duty than at any point in years.

Chicago currently has about 10,600 police officers, according to the payroll posted on the city’s website. That’s a drop of about 1,200 officers since Richard M. Daley’s last re-election five years ago.

It means that, on average, each district in the city has 17 fewer officers available for every shift than in 2007.

As the old adage goes, it’s not just the size of your police force that matters—it’s how you use it. And McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have repeatedly claimed that they’ve implemented efficiencies that put more cops on the street.

When reporters began noting that many of the reassigned officers were already doing specialized work on the street, Emanuel and McCarthy started stressing that they’d put more cops on the beat.

Understandably, they haven’t gone out of their way to tell us that the police ranks are thinning at an ever-faster rate. We currently have 300 fewer officers to deploy than when Emanuel took office just a year ago.

Incidentally, a Tribune poll this week found that the mayor gets his lowest marks from voters on his handling of crime and policing. He responded yesterday by unveiling a new community policing initiative, except that he didn’t call it a community policing initiative, since that’s what Daley and the rest of the country have been calling such initiatives for the last two decades. Mayor Emanuel wants to give us something new, even if it’s just a name. Plus, if he called it community policing, it would have to involve collaborating with the community, and not just descending into it.

But I digress.

The police department isn’t the only part of city government experiencing shrinkage. Most of the departments responsible for delivering front-line services to taxpaying residents have shed employees.

Streets and san, responsible for garbage collection, street sweeping, tree trimming, rodent abatement, and other services, has lost about 100 workers since the Daley days. So has the fire department and the department of public health. I’m not a mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that means each of these departments has two fewer people available in each ward in the city.

The library system took even bigger hits. It’s down about 180 people—more than a fifth of its workforce. The office of the inspector general, charged with investigating waste and corruption, also has 20 percent fewer people on staff.

Overall, more than 2,000 city jobs have been cut since the final months under Daley. Black and Hispanic workers have borne the brunt of them.

Mayor Emanuel says he’s just taken the first steps toward making the city more efficient. As his first-year progress report puts it: “This new level of accountability and transparency is changing the way people interact with Chicago government and helping promote a sense of shared responsibility as we tackle our common challenges.”

Somehow, though, the mayor’s office hasn’t yet shared in the staffing cuts. In fact, it’s grown, from 81 employees in October 2010 to 86 now. As under Daley, the office employs nine public relations and media staffers.

The mayor’s office also pays better than it used to: the average salary is $88,200, up from $85,235 in the last days under Daley.

Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander says the mayor's office appears bigger because it now includes three employees who used to work for the department of environment. That was the department focused on environmental enforcement and education that Emanuel dismantled this year.

In addition, Alexander says, nine other employees are part of an “innovation delivery team.” He says they’re tasked with developing new solutions to urban problems, and their positions are funded by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Perhaps there aren’t enough grants available for the libraries or police. Or maybe Emanuel simply doesn’t see a need for more people in front-line service departments. The mayor's office didn't have anything to say about those cuts.

Still, for the sake of argument, let’s agree that it’s unfair to include the innovation team in these calculations. Without the Bloomberg-funded employees, staffing in the mayor's office has dipped by five under Emanuel. But the total cost to taxpayers is nearly the same as under Daley, because mayoral aides are making an average of about $2,000 more apiece.

Emanuel spoke the truth when he promised a year ago that things would change at City Hall.

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