Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García is trying to gain traction in the race to unseat Rahm Emanuel for mayor of Chicago. Today, García unveiled a list of initiatives he believes will reduce the city's violence. But does his plan add up? And just how has Mayor Emanuel fared on keeping the promises he made four years ago on public safety?
García today blasted the mayor for failing to hire 1,000 new police officers as he had promised in his campaign four years ago. It was a core part of a strategy that García laid out today to hire those 1,000 additional officers and end a reliance on police overtime.
“It would make a significant difference,” García said. “We’re already spending $100 million overtime; these are not fresh cops; they’re not in the best situation to engage in building trust with the community.”
The police force is currently just over 12,500 and there are varying opinions as to the optimal level. The Fraternal Order of Police and progressive aldermen claim they are severely understaffed and they believe more officers would help reign in the city’s gun violence problem.
García tabbed the cost of hiring 1,000 new officers at about $111 million. Emanuel’s campaign says the cost would be closer to $126 million. García lacked specifics on how he would pay for the new officers, but did say a chunk would come from eliminating those runaway overtime costs.
In a 2011 WTTW candidate forum, Emanuel partially blamed the city’s gun violence problem on an overworked police department.
“When you have too few police officers, it does affect morale,” he said. “I’ve laid out a plan for 1,000 additional officers. We do have a morale problem and it affects our ability to fight crime.”
When asked if he believed the city had the money to hire those police officers, the mayor said, “yes.”
Instead, the mayor has made it his policy over the last four years to move officers from desk duty onto the streets and put recent police academy graduates onto the beat, something Garcia calls a “shell game.”
Today, Emanuel defended his policy.
“What we did was eliminate ghost positions. We put more officers on the street by better practices,” Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference. “Before I go to ask the taxpayers for more money, why is an officer behind the desk and not behind the wheel when they’re trained to be behind the wheel and walking a beat?”
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) also supports 1,000 additional cops, and says he has called for hearings and introduced legislation in City Council to get that done, but says his efforts have been bottled up by the powers that be.
“I proposed it four years ago, I’m looking at it again,” Fioretti said. “We can find money in this budget when we want to. We can build a Maggie Daley Park. We can find money for a DePaul Arena. The question is, there’s no political will.”
Both Fioretti and García have talked about youth job programs, economic development, and community policing as part of their strategies. The mayor touts that he’s greatly expanded youth and summer job programs during his tenure. García’s platform did not, however, address the massive flow of illegal guns onto the city’s streets, a point the Emanuel campaign sought to drive home.
“To put forward a public safety plan without addressing the issue of illegal guns on our streets defies credibility,” said Emanuel Campaign Spokesman Steve Mayberry.