By John Byrne and Hal Dardick
1:48 PM CST, January 31, 2013
Following a deadly start to the year that included the murder of 15-year-old band majorette Hadiya Pendleton, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced today that 200 police officers will be reassigned to patrol work.
The officers, who had been performing administrative duties will be replaced by civilians, according to an announcement from the mayor’s office. The first officers will be reassigned this weekend and the changes are expected to be completed by the end of March, city officials said.
Emanuel said the officers will help saturate areas where trouble is brewing, hopefully quashing violence.
"All 200, by March, move them all onto the streets, into the areas, to actually do what I think is a key component, which is to reduce gun violence and gang activity," Emanuel said at a news conference with McCarthy at Area Central Police Headquarters, 5101 S. Wentworth. "Before a flame becomes a fire, to put it out. And to actually basically saturate and exhaust an area and have the resources to do that."
The first wave of redeployments will include 60 officers being reassigned to mobile units sent out at the discretion of deputy chiefs. Thirty will be deployed to Area Central, with 15 each going to Area North and Area South.
When McCarthy first took over the department in May 2011, he disbanded the city’s existing mobile strike units in a move critics said was a mistake. During 2012, McCarthy’s first full year at the helm, the city topped 500 homicides for the first time since 2008.
At today's news conference, McCarthy said the latest move is not an acknowledgment that the city needs those strike units he disbanded because the units he uses have "geographical accountability" in specific areas of the city.
"We already have more than 200 officers citywide doing exactly what we're talking about," McCarthy said. "Getting these officers out the door quickly from their assignments -- which, by the way, we just identified -- putting them into a place where they can make a difference. This was the simplest, easiest, best assignment that we could do, was put them into the area task forces."
Gang conflicts "are not going from the Northwest Side to the Southeast Side," McCarthy added. "So this is geographical accountability in the larger fashion. That's how it's different."
McCarthy said late last year that his strategies were starting to take hold, but murders in January have already topped 40 — making it the most violent January since 2002. Those statistics already were getting national attention when Pendleton was felled Tuesday by a gunmen while hanging out with a group of friends at a South Side park. She had performed with her high school band the week before presidential inauguration festivities.
Asked about Chicago's national notoriety, Emanuel today touted increased tourism, but said he's focused on the safety of the city's children.
"Tourism is up, hotel construction is up, our convention business, our tourism is up," the mayor said. "That said, while I know you're worried about, and I'm worried and concerned about an image, my main role, my main priority isn't the image. It's getting the results I need so there's a sense of community here, at home in the city of Chicago for our residents. And then the public relations will take care of itself."
Emanuel did not directly respond when asked whether Obama should attend Pendleton's funeral, as some have suggested. "My main thing -- I mean, obviously the president spoke to it as did (White House press secretary) Jay (Carney) the gun violence, wherever it occurs in the country, including Chicago," he said. "The best thing that can happen in Washington is a comprehensive background check."
As the carnage has mounted, Emanuel has started a crusade to ban semi-automatic, military-style weapons and he has urged pension funds, banks and mutual funds to divest their investments in companies that make those rifles. The vast majority of murders in Chicago, however, are committed with handguns.
Emanuel today said he has made it a priority to deal with handguns by calling for background checks for all handgun purchasers by closing loopholes and exemptions on purchases at gun shows. "Now, I've talked about the assault weapon because I think that's important. I've also talked about the fact that you need a ban on (large) clips."
"If you stop a criminal from ever getting access to whatever type of gun, you stop the criminal," he said.
McCarthy also has called for universal background checks on gun buyers, tougher penalties for people convicted of illegal use of weapons and a new requirement that all lost, stolen or transferred firearms be reported to the state.
In a report issued last week, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson said the city could hire civilians for nearly 300 jobs now held by police officers.
Emanuel said today that the Police Department already has redeployed more than 1,000 cops and was evaluating what other officers could be moved from civilian work to patrol when Ferguson issued his report. But he also called Ferguson’s report “useful and instructive.”
The mayor said he isn't prepared to hire additional police beyond those needed to keep up with police department retirements. "In my view, you don't ask the taxpayers to pay for additional cops until you make sure you're using every cop on the payroll today effectively," Emanuel said today.
Ferguson noted in his report that if officers are redeployed, and civilians are hired to replace them, police department spending would go up.
The report also noted that although Chicago has more police officers per capita of the top-ten most populous U.S. cities, it also has the fewest civilians working for its police department.