Three years ago the Chicago Police Department faced two crises. One was damage to police relations with the city’s black residents — damage caused in part by high-profile shootings like the one that killed Laquan McDonald.
The other crisis was a gun-violence surge that was especially intense in some of the city’s black neighborhoods.
Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson came up with a plan. They proposed a massive expansion of CPD. Johnson announced the expansion, a two-year plan, in September 2016 and talked it up at a City Council hearing a few weeks later.
“When we get done with this thing,” Johnson vowed, “CPD is going to be a model for the rest of the country in terms of the training, in terms of our professionalism, in terms of our cultural diversity.”
Speaking to a class of new CPD hires at the city’s police academy, Johnson tied that diversity promise to the department’s need for community trust.
“When I go out into communities, I’m always hearing, ‘Superintendent, we want the police that patrol our communities to look like us,’ ” Johnson told them. “We can’t get that unless we have the diversity coming into our ranks.”
Johnson, an African American, kept promising more diversity. But when it came time for the hiring in CPD’s expansion, whites got nearly twice as many of the jobs as African Americans, according to an analysis of city personnel data by WBEZ. As the department grew, black representation in CPD actually decreased.
African American officers also faced wider disparities in promotions, the analysis found. And their odds of being a detective dropped while the odds for whites increased — even as the department struggled to solve the shootings.
A statement from a CPD spokesman insists the department is “unwavering” in its “commitment to attracting, hiring and promoting qualified candidates at all ranks, and thereby reflecting the broad cross-section of the Chicago communities we serve.”
But compared to three years ago, CPD does not look more like the communities hit hardest by violent crime. It looks less like them.
The Police Department expansion spanned 2017 and 2018. CPD grew by nearly 1,300 officers to 13,403, according to the data, obtained from the Chicago Department of Human Resources under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
During the expansion the department hired 902 white officers, 904 Latinos and just 443 African Americans. Black representation among sworn officers slipped to 21.0% from 22.1%, continuing a downward trend that stretches back more than a decade.
The hiring did not reflect Chicago’s racial makeup. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2017, the latest available, whites comprised 32.3% of the city’s population; African Americans, 28.8%; Latinos, 28.5%; Asians, 6.5%.
As CPD’s black representation has declined over the years, the department’s Latino numbers have increased. By this May, Latinos reached 26.6% of sworn officers — not far from their population share. The department’s Asian American numbers have also edged up over the years but not as fast as the city’s Asian American population.
CPD’s attempts to hire more African Americans are facing headwinds. Chicago’s black population has been shrinking. Many veteran black officers have been retiring. And there has been a stigma about joining the department.
Experts point to high-profile police misconduct cases and police shootings such as McDonald’s killing.
“Those hamper recruiting,” said Dr. Patrick Oliver, a former Cleveland police chief who heads the Criminal Justice Program at Cedarville University in Ohio. “There’s no question about it.”
Some black politicians in Chicago have accused the Police Department of unfairly screening out African American applicants through debt restrictions, psychological testing, and a rule that recruits have the equivalent of two years of college.
The Police Department says it has taken a range of steps to boost its black hires.
CPD human resources director Bob Landowski pointed to recruiting outreach efforts and the elimination of a $30 fee to take the entrance exam. And he pointed to new test preparation sessions, credit-repair workshops, and workouts at the police academy for the physical-agility exam.
The department has tried to remove “all things that are barriers that we’ve heard have made people hesitant to go through the process,” Landowski said.
But the racial breakdown of who CPD hired during the expansion shows that those efforts did not cut it.
Oliver, the criminal justice professor, said making a police department more diverse “is a leader-led process.”
“Top management has to basically develop plans and strategies and then hold people accountable for the success of it,” Oliver said.
The Police Department’s 2017-2018 expansion was a big opportunity not just to hire more racial minorities but to promote them from within the ranks already serving. Still, CPD’s traditional disparities continued. Whites got 59.4% of promotions; Latinos got 20.5%, and African Americans got 16.9%.
Experts say more CPD supervisors of color could help curb racial bias and cultural incompetence among officers. But CPD’s growth did little to make the supervisory ranks more diverse. By this May, 17.0% of white officers were supervisors. The figure for black officers was 9.3%. For Latinos, it was just 7.4%
Whites also got more than their share of detective promotions. CPD detective ranks increased by 240 during the three years ending this May. The number of white detectives increased by 159, Latino detectives by 67 and black detectives by just 3.
This comes as the department struggles to improve record-low rates of solving murders. To put more of the killers behind bars, detectives need to build trust with witnesses and victims in black and Latino neighborhoods.
Asked why CPD does not have more black and Latino detectives, a department spokesman insisted there is diversity among the detectives. And he said most of the promotions to that job are based on the officer’s score on the detective exam.
Landowski, the human resources director, says CPD can do more to help officers with the preparation.
“We want to grow all of our training and providing opportunity and helping all of our individuals when it comes to promotional exams and testing,” Landowski said. “We want to focus on being fair for everybody and equitable and giving everybody the opportunity.”
CPD will have to assess its recruitment and hiring under a court-enforced agreement to reform the department.
But that agreement, known as a consent decree, does not include any target numbers for hiring or promoting minorities.
Landowski said the department will keep trying.
“We’re going to continue to try to grow the department again and make it a diverse department for everybody,” Landowski said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but we are moving in that direction.”
CPD officials may want to grow the department again but there is no sign of that happening soon. The 2017-2018 expansion was by far the largest in decades and is unlikely to be repeated any time soon.
The department’s plan for graduating new officers from the Police Academy this year is 235, just a fraction of last year. With so few new officers hitting the streets, there won’t be many promotions either.
The big opportunity to make CPD look more like the communities it serves has come and gone.
How we reported this
Race-identified aggregate data covering 17 years were obtained from the Chicago Department of Human Resources using the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. That data is now available at WBEZ’s data portal: Sworn personnel (5/15), Sworn personnel (12/31), Supervisors, Detectives, New Hires. CDHR, citing employee privacy, had refused to provide race-identified data at the employee level, even without the names of the employees. CDHR also refused to provide any alternative unique identifiers at the employee level, which limited tracking of promotions from year to year. To put the staffing in context, annual Chicago population estimates by race were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. The available estimates covered 2005-2017. WBEZ’s reporting owes heavily to data analysis by Zack Kertcher, principal of Research Done, who has been looking at city personnel data for more than a year. Kertcher was assisted by Jay Landau, Scott Lemoine and NamSor.