The Chicago Police Department will strip patrol districts of officers and limit the use of some district officers during daytime shifts in favor of a “highly visible” presence downtown, according to memos obtained by the Chicago Tribune.
The move reduces the number of officers available in at least some of the city’s 22 patrol districts to respond to 911 calls during every shift. As of Tuesday morning, districts will now have to send officers to the downtown area.
“While on post, Department members will be highly visible. Vehicles will have their Mars lights activated for the duration of their tour of duty,” according to one of the memos, which said the policy change will remain in effect until further notice. “Department members will also ensure that they have their helmets, batons, masks (if issued) with them, and be prepared for inclement weather. Body Worn Cameras (BWC), if assigned, will be required.”
To make up for the loss of district officers, the Community Safety Team, a new citywide unit tasked with responding to sudden flare-ups in violence in neighborhoods away from downtown, has close to 500 officers available, said a spokesman for Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said. The spokesman, Tom Ahern, also said the city’s Summer Mobile Patrol Unit, a temporary citywide unit with about 200 officers, has extended its operations into November.
Many officers working in those units had already been pulled from district patrols. But Ahern insisted CPD is “deeply invested in the neighborhoods.”
Police sources have said the department’s downtown deployment plan over the summer following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota and subsequent demonstrations and looting, has left a shortage of officers in some districts, raising concern among cops that they won’t be able to give timely police service to the neighborhoods. And over the years, patrol districts have routinely struggled to meet the demand for police service.
Ahern said the changes aren’t leaving neighborhoods vulnerable.
“No doubt officers are detailed downtown, but neighborhoods are well protected,” Ahern said.
The department’s districts are staffed with varying number of police officers. They are not staffed equally per capita or per square mile, although districts with more violence generally have more officers.
Two districts cover the downtown area, as well as neighborhoods as far north as Fullerton Avenue and as far south as 31st Street. The other 20 cover neighborhoods that have already been lost resources over the summer.
In mid-August, some districts began sending officers downtown every day, although districts with high levels of violence were largely excluded. Chicago police brass implemented the downtown deployment plan when high-end businesses on the Magnificent Mile and in other nearby areas experienced widespread looting and vandalism.
Officers since then have been seen up and down North Michigan Avenue sitting in their patrol cars with their blue emergency lights activated near Water Tower Place, the Drake Hotel and other popular downtown spots.
The new order, issued Monday and taking effect Tuesday morning, draws officers into downtown from every district across in the city, according to a copy obtained by the Tribune.
A separate order issued Friday said district tactical teams will now be limited in the hours during which they can work the streets each day. Those teams generally make the most arrests in the districts, responding to in-progress 911 calls, executing warrants and focusing on crime patterns, whether burglaries, shootings or drug activity.
The teams, typically a sergeant and eight to 10 officers, vary their start times based on a district commander’s assessment of an area’s needs. They typically work in pairs, meaning a team could patrol a district with four to six vehicles at any time of the day.
Friday’s order forbids the teams from working before 4 p.m. without permission from department leaders. Much of the city’s violence takes place in the evening and overnight hours.
Tactical officers normally patrol in unmarked squad cars but under the new order, they’re required to ride in marked cars. If none are available during a given shift, they’re to ride four officers per unmarked car to free up marked vehicles.
That means a district whose tactical team normally operates with six squad cars, for example, could be reduced to three. That also further diminishes the number of officers in each neighborhood available to respond to 911 calls.
One tactical unit supervisor questioned the decision to have four officers travel together in a squad car, calling it’s “a safety issue” and “kind of a waste of manpower.”
“…For years, years, I mean years as a department, it has been extremely frowned (upon) to put four (officers) in a car,” the supervisor said.
There’s been a yearslong dispute in Chicago among cops and politicians over how many beat and tactical officers are staffed in the patrol districts.
Earlier this year, then-interim police Superintendent Charlie Beck orchestrated a reorganization of the Police Department, moving hundreds of cops from specialized gang and drug units to the patrol division to beef up district-level staffing.
Just before that, Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed snippets of that plan with the Tribune, raising concerns that the work of officers in gang and drug units, many in an undercover capacity, was too redundant and that districts needed more patrol resources.
“What are they doing? And how are they supporting the front line work that the districts are doing?” she said of the specialized units in an interview with the Tribune in her City Hall office. “They’re going to have to convince me that you need that many people when our districts, in many instances, are starving.”
“And what I hear from Northwest Side aldermen is, ‘We don’t have enough folks in our district.’ And I look at some of the headcounts and I think they’re right.”
But in April, soon after Lightfoot named Brown as her permanent top cop, he ordered dozens of officers from North and Northwest Side districts to beef up patrols in high-crime areas of the South and West sides.
At that time, the city was sinking deeper into debt because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Lightfoot wanted Brown to crack down on granting officers overtime.
That redeployment was short-lived, as Brown immediately came under fire from Northwest Side aldermen who said they were not given notice about the massive move of officers and Brown was starving those neighborhoods of police resources.
As violence in Chicago worsened this summer, Brown started up two new citywide units to, among other things, respond to crime hotspots. Those units, the Community Safety Team and Critical Incident Response Team, a unit of about 270 officers often assigned downtown, are staffed with cops all over Chicago.
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