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Top cop: No need to hire more Chicago officers

Published: Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 9:26 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (MCT) — Chicago's top cop insisted Thursday that he has enough officers under his command, even as the city is on track to spend $93 million on police overtime this year in an effort to tamp down the city's high violent crime rate.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2014 budget proposal calls for just enough hiring to replace retiring officers, a position Superintendent Garry McCarthy defended during a City Council budget hearing where some aldermen argued for expanding the Police Department.

"We've got adequate resources, and we're making a difference," McCarthy said.

He said this year's high overtime spending was largely a result of launching the Operation Impact initiative in February that flooded 20 dangerous neighborhoods with additional police officers working on their days off. It was one of several moves to address a crime surge that left Chicago with more homicides last year than any other U.S. city. And it came days after the high-profile slaying of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton at a park not far from President Barack Obama's home.

Though the city's violent crime is down significantly, Chicago is logging just slightly fewer homicides than it did in 2011, when Emanuel took office and brought in McCarthy, a former top New York City police official.

But a review of big-city police statistics shows that Chicago still has the highest homicide total in the nation this year, and aldermen say the city could do better if it hired more officers. They say the amount of overtime spending only proves their point.

"We need to staff up the Police Department so they can start preventing the crime and not chasing the crime," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, part of a group of aldermen who want the city to spend $50 million to hire 1,000 more cops.

"Talk to any management consultant, and they will tell you an organization the size of the Police Department should have a 3 to 3 1/2 percent overtime budget," Munoz said during a break in the hearing, noting that the Police Department has a proposed budget next year of about $1.29 billion.

"We're looking at almost a 10 percent overtime budget here."

But McCarthy and Emanuel budget officials disagree.

"It's cheaper to pay a police officer overtime than it is to hire a fully loaded — with benefits, health benefits and pay — officer," McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said overtime numbers started going down in September after newly trained officers were deployed in Operation Impact areas.

In the 2013 budget, the city set aside $32 million for overtime, a figure it quickly blew past. For next year, Emanuel has proposed spending $71 million out of the department's day-to-day budget, and $75 million once all spending from other departments is figured in.

Nevertheless, McCarthy points to a declining number of shootings and homicides this year as evidence that he doesn't need to increase the force's level of about 12,500 officers.

Last year homicides totaled 511, the highest tally of any city in the United States and far more than New York and Los Angeles on a per-capita basis. To date the city has recorded 91 fewer homicides than last year, McCarthy said — eight less than in 2011.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields said that just proves that having more cops on the streets reduces crime.

"I'm still saying that they should be full-time employees as opposed to having guys work on their day off," Shields said.

The debate about the number of officers took center stage during several hours of testimony, which included a heated exchange between McCarthy and Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, who was upset that McCarthy had named a white commander to lead the Harrison District on the West Side. Ervin accused McCarthy of not doing enough to promote African-Americans in the upper ranks.

"I find it hard to believe that in the city of Chicago and in a district that is probably 99 percent minority that we couldn't find a qualified minority to lead the district," Ervin said. "That, to me, is a challenge. ... If you don't feel that that's important as part of your administration, then you're not the right person to lead this department."

McCarthy cited several statistics that he said proved he's promoting African-Americans to upper-level ranks at a brisk pace. He said Ervin was "putting words in my mouth" and "speaking nonsense. ... So I'm not going to sit here and listen to you tell me what I'm saying."

McCarthy also suggested that the negative news about the city's crime problem discounts the progress the department has made this year.

"I think right now our greatest challenge is communicating exactly what's going on," he said. "The results that we're getting — which I still say and I will say forever — is progress, not success. We're moving in the right direction. We're definitely moving the needle."

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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