Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday assured the newest crop of Chicago Police Department officers “I will always have your back,” at a time when a rank and file demoralized by a relentless string of canceled days off don’t necessarily believe it.
The mayor’s latest, most vociferous attempt to reclaim the police support that has abandoned her since her landslide victory in 2019 came at a graduation ceremony in the Navy Pier ballroom that also included the promotion of new detectives, field training officers, captains and evidence technicians.
It also was almost one year to the day after CPD officers gathered at the University of Chicago Medical Center to support their wounded colleague, Carlos Yanez Jr., and his slain partner, Ella French, literally turned their backs on the mayor as Lightfoot approached them.
French was killed and Yanez was left fighting for his life after being shot during a traffic stop in West Englewood.
“Our residents and our city need your skillful, courageous and rapid response. I know how big of a responsibility this is. But I want you to also know that, as mayor of this city, I will always have your back. I will always make sure that we are providing you with the best training, with the best resources to make sure that you are able to do your job, and when you need that extra support, that you have the resources that you need to heal,” Lightfoot told the graduates.
“As somebody who was honored to serve in this department 20 years ago and seeing firsthand the sacrifice and the smarts and the intelligence and the innovation that our officers have, I want to make sure that you know that we all see you and that we’re here to support you in every way that we can.”
Lightfoot ran CPD’s Office of Professional Standards, the in-house predecessor to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose ward is home to scores of police officers, challenged the mayor to “put her money where her mouth is” — by ensuring prompt City Council approval of his ordinance guaranteeing those officers one day off each week, no strings attached.
“This is a very important piece of legislation to show the men and women of the Chicago Police Department that we’re trying to take off some of the load,” O’Shea said.
“What I hear over and over — from not only officers in my community but citywide — is that they feel that elected officials and community leaders don’t have their backs.”
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), a former firefighter and police officer in Chicago, has introduced another ordinance to require that officers get advance notice of their schedules, are able to decline excessive overtime and are offered a pay hike if they accept those extra hours.
Napolitano predicted Lightfoot’s, “I have your back” declaration will fall on deaf ears for many reasons.
They range from a what he called a pattern of “demonizing” officers as soon as a questionable video is posted on social media to her choice of outsider David Brown as CPD superintendent. The bill of particulars also includes eliminating 614 police vacancies, canceling days off in a way that spreads officers too thin and new policies limiting foot and vehicle chases, Napolitano said.
“You gave up on the department. You’re looking at it as, crime is gonna cause too much of a lawsuit, so let it just happen where it happens. That’s the way coppers feel about it now,” he said.
Napolitano said he was standing with rank-and-file officers at police headquarters Sunday when French’s star was retired.
“One officer turned to me and said, ‘We don’t need a change just for our department. We need a change for our city or we’re gonna lose it.’ And I said, ‘I’ve been saying that for three and a half years.’ ”
Julie Troglia, the widow of Jeff Troglia, a Chicago police officer who committed suicide in March 2021, was incensed by what Lightfoot told the latest crop of officers. The mayor “has not even begun to have their backs,” she wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.
“We are families of loved ones who have lost their life due to the horrific conditions that these men and women are working under. Conditions that have been condoned by her administration. If she really wants to have their back and make a real change for them, she needs to have a conversation with our families.”
During Tuesday’s speech, Lightfoot didn’t sugarcoat the challenges officers face.
The public’s “deep skepticism” of police officers can be overcome only if officers take the time to “learn the neighborhoods” and get to know the people they are policing.
“Take time to speak to the residents that you serve. Get out of your cars and walk the streets and say, ‘Hello.’ Really take in the vibrancy of these communities,” the mayor told the graduates.
“Be engaged with our residents because they do want to get to know you. They need to know that you’re not just a badge and a gun and a uniform. They need to see you for who you are. See you as your families see you. As sons and daughters of this great city. As people who have chosen service over self. When you make those connections, it is the most powerful tool you will have.”
After a tidal wave of police retirements and depressed turnout for police exams that once drew thousands, the CPD now has 11,762 sworn officers, down from 13,353 officers before Lightfoot took office.The department has 1,408 sworn vacancies, according to the city.
So far this year, there have been 814 retirements, compared to 973 all of last year, and 625 in 2020.
Lightfoot balanced her 2021 budget by eliminating 614 police vacancies.
With homicides and shootings rising last fall to levels not seen in a quarter century, alderpersons urged the mayor to restore those vacancies. Lightfoot resisted, arguing the department was having trouble filling the openings it does have.