Chicago officials step up fight against gun violence

January 31, 2013

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy faced an unusually large number of cameras Thursday as they addressed questions about gun violence at a press conference at a police station. There were no less than 16 TV cameras in a town where six television stations typically cover the news.

It’s an indication of the heightened interest in guns, as potential laws are discussed on the state and national levels and as Chicago continues to struggle with violence, including the Tuesday night killing of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

In announcing the latest crime fighting effort Supt. McCarthy said the police department is moving 200 officers from administrative duties to the street.

“We should have clerks doing clerical work. We don’t train people to be police officers and have them doing clerical work,” McCarthy said.

The move comes one week after Chicago’s inspector general issued a report saying Chicago was wasting millions of dollars every year paying sworn police officers to do jobs that could be done by less expensive administrative staff.

A spokesman for Mayor Emanuel says 200 people will be hired to pick up the administrative duties now being done by the sworn officers.

Of the 200 officers being reassigned, Superintendent McCarthy says 60 will be placed in “saturation units,” which are similar to tactical units disbanded when Emanuel first took office. Those units go to crime hotspots but there’s an interesting backstory here.

When he was running for Mayor, Emanuel promised to put 1,000 more police on the street. On his eighth day in office he took 500 officers out of anti-gang units like the mobile strike force that went around the city to crime hotspots. He and McCarthy reassigned those cops to beats and counted them toward the “thousand new police officer promise.”

At Thursday’s press conference Emanuel admitted the saturation units are very similar to the strike force.

“It is the same objective in the sense of the strike force, in saturating an area before a flare becomes a fire, or before a flame becomes a fire you put it out,” he said.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy says the 60 officers will be added to about 200 other officers already in the saturation units. McCarthy says the units are different than the disbanded mobile strike force because the strike force moved citywide and the saturation units divvied up the city into three areas and they stay in their respective areas.

The president of the police union, Michael Shields, is skeptical of the proposed changes. He says the mayor’s office has not told them which 200 positions they’re shifting to from sworn officers to lower-paid administrative positions. He says Thursday’s announcement is another example of policing by press conference. 

The mayor’s press office could not provide a list of the positions being changed.