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How many cops is enough?

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The Chicago Police Department's Lt. Leo Panepinto, Officer Stefleton and Officer Casasanto. (Flickr/Michael Kappel)

How many officers should the CPD employ?


According to the Chicago Police Department, that was the number set in the budget in 2010.

Except that Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project recently looked into how many police personnel other major cities employ — Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Phoenix — and guess what? We’ve got more cops on the streets than all of them.

Safety is a priority in Chicago. With a history likes ours, it probably should be. The problem is that we not only  have more cops per person than Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Phoenix, we also have more homicides per person.

Siska would be the first to admit that his methods aren’t perfect. Other cities were withholding about the exact size of their forces, leaving the CJP to rely upon the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Still, the question remains, how can we be understaffed if we have so many cops?

Part of the problem is that number — 13,500. Nobody seems to know where it came from, but when Fraternal Order of Police President Michael Shields said the force is understaffed by 2,000 officers, what he meant was, there are 2,000 fewer officers than that 13,500 figure.

According to Siska, Chicago should have two goals: The first is to figure out what tactics prevent shootings  —  and thereby homicides — most effectively, and second, exactly how many officers we really need to execute them.

And above all we need to let go of that arbitrary number. “It’s in the budget, so it’s like gospel,” Siska says, “but nobody has looked behind that number and asked why.“

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