Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking for ways to slash tens of millions of dollars from the Chicago Police Department and already is running into heavy criticism from police union leaders who question whether it's all "a stunt."
Making those kind of major cuts likely would involve a two-pronged approach: ending the longtime budget charade of having a force of about 13,500 sworn officers on paper but always leaving more than 1,000 positions vacant and cutting layers of bureaucracy at police headquarters, according to a source familiar with the mayor's thinking.
But Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields today called that type of approach “the Emanuel shuffle."
Shields said an Emanuel aide told him six days ago that the mayor did not have a target figure for cuts at the Police Department, even as numbers ranging from $190 million to $230 million have popped up in the media. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy rolled out the administration's initial push on the issue Tuesday, but he's not being made available for comment today on the topic.
Emanuel was mum on the specifics today as his administration regroups.
Emanuel said he will not reduce the number of cops on the street. But the mayor said the central office at the police department will have to see changes along with bureaucracies across city government.
"You can't close a $637 million budget (deficit) by putting out signs that say 'Do not trespass,' ” he said. “But that's not going to affect the number of officers on the street."
Shields, meanwhile, accused the administration of exaggerating the extent of the city’s financial straits so the mayor can look good when the budget comes in at a lower level.
By eliminating vacant positions in the budget, the city would only save money on paper, not in reality, he said.
“Who are they kidding?" Shields asked. "This is just a stunt. Clearly, they think Chicagoans are stupid."
And he said the mayor is not keeping his pledge to put 1,000 more officers on the street.
"He's going back on what his position was," Shields said. "The administration continues to push back the field goals posts."
Emanuel frequently says that under his new administration 750 more officers have been put on the street, but that figure is hotly contested by rank-and-file cops.
They note that 500 officers from specialized units who already worked the streets, albeit under centralized commands, were shifted to regular patrols or five district task forces. Another 50 were probationary officers.
O'Connor said Emanuel is making good on his promise. “Given Rahm’s current record of having put more police on the street without impacting the police budget, this is the other side of that coin,” O’Connor said of the cuts.
Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, who is chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he was keeping an open mind until he sees the details.
“I think that there are some inefficiencies” at the Police Department, he said. “The Police Department is the sole biggest part of manpower in the city of Chicago, and to say that there are no inefficiencies in there would be ludicrous.”
“I think that (Police Superintendent Garry) McCarthy can cut the budget without cutting actual boots on the ground within the communities, but it’s going to take some hard work, and it’s going to take some thinking outside of the box,” he added.
Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, said Emanuel’s “main promise” during the campaign was to right the city’s financial ship.
The budget “is going to have to be cut all over if we are going to be able to accomplish what the mayor wants to do, and not just push this thing over until next year,” Mell said, referring to next year’s anticipated budget shortfall of nearly $636 million. “So, it’s going to hurt, it’s going to hurt everybody.”
But some aldermen said they would have a hard time getting behind a plan to eliminate police department vacancies if that would mean cutting spots meant for street officers.
"Where would those 1,400 vacancies go to?” asked Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, head of the Hispanic Caucus, who was referring to the current number of vacancies. “Would they be police officers who would normally go on the street? If that's the case I would have a hard time supporting it. If they were vacancies that were in a desk someplace, maybe I could be convinced of that, but I'd like to see where those 1,400 are at."
Budget Committee Chairman Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, said she doesn't want to second guess Emanuel and McCarthy before she sees the budget proposal. But she said her far South Side neighborhood needs more police, not fewer. "Who's going to be the hardest hit?” she asked. “My community, so we couldn't stand for that."
Emanuel police cuts push draws criticism
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.