Mayor Brandon Johnson on Thursday appealed for community help to keep the peace as he faces his first summer holiday weekend, but he also is relying on a controversial practice of canceling officers’ days off to get more cops on the streets.
Like his predecessor, he pointed to community groups and extra law enforcement efforts to keep people safe over the historically violent weekend.
“It’s going to take all of us, not just the police, not just city government, to ensure that our communities can live and thrive in peace and safety,” Johnson said at a news conference at 63rd Street Beach. “However you decide to spend your holiday weekend in Chicago, your safety is my top priority.”
Interim police Supt. Fred Waller said his department has a “comprehensive safety plan” for the weekend that includes more officers on public transit and in business areas and conducting bag checks at beaches and Millennium Park.
Waller also said, “We won’t neglect the neighborhoods just for downtown.”
Officers will have one day off canceled this weekend to beef up staffing, a practice that has been criticized as dangerous to the well-being of officers. Waller said it’s standard procedure for big holiday weekends.
“We take the wellness of our officers seriously, and I want them to know that I appreciate them, and the city appreciates them,” Waller said.
Asked whether officers will have more canceled days off this summer, Waller said: “It’s something that we do every year. And it’s not anything new. It’s something that we’ve done for years and years, canceling a day off just to make sure that we have the manpower that’s needed for all the festivals and different games we have this summer.”
Johnson said some officers have volunteered to work on their days off.
“There are police officers that have signed up to work, too,” Johnson said. “I want to be clear that there are a number of people who are raising their hand to participate in the overall better, stronger, safer vision that we have put forward.”
Those efforts will be in addition to the 30 state-funded “peacekeepers” wearing yellow vests this weekend to deescalate “hot spots” of violence and avoid a repeat of mid-April, when a crowd of teens danced on cars in the Loop, leading to two people being shot and police making 15 arrests.
Several community group leaders spoke with Johnson, including Tamar Manasseh, founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings, which has been peacefully occupying 75th and Stewart streets in Englewood for eight years. She praised Johnson for supporting her group.
“I am so encouraged by this mayor and this administration,” Manasseh said. “For once in all of the years that we’ve been occupying that corner, we’ve never had an administration that we could actually work with, an administration that actually kept their promises, especially not so quickly.”
Every year, mayors promise to increase officers on patrol, only to see their best efforts devolve into a bloodbath over the holiday weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer.
Last year’s Memorial Day weekend saw 51 people shot, nine of them killed — the most violent holiday weekend in five years — despite increased police patrols and a focus on neighborhood programs.
Four years ago, in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first year in office, she said police would “flood the zone” with 1,200 additional officers for the holiday weekend. Lightfoot even rode along with police and responded to a shooting. In 72 hours, 41 people were shot, seven of them killed — a more violent weekend than the year before.
That was the last time Lightfoot offered specifics about added deployment of officers for Memorial Day weekend.
Johnson begins his term with a police department that has 1,700 fewer officers than when Lightfoot started. It had about 2,000 vacant positions as of March.
Johnson has promised to confront the causes of violence, pledging to make $1 billion in “investments in people.” Hours after his inauguration last week, he filled the new position of deputy mayor for community safety with Garien Gatewood, director of the Illinois Justice Project.
Johnson established that position to replace the deputy mayor for public safety, which became a revolving door under Lightfoot. The idea, Johnson’s staff said, was to do away with a liaison role between the mayor and the police department and create a role to focus on crime prevention beyond the police.
During her first year in office, Lightfoot introduced an anti-violence program dubbed “Our City, Our Safety” that aimed to flood the city’s 15 most violent neighborhoods with investment and resources. That was tied to private and public investments in housing and development in her Invest South/West program.