News and Analysis

Chicago Suffering Officer Shortage, Can’t Find Recruits: ‘People Don’t Want To Be The Police’
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 30: Police investigate the murder of a young man found shot to death in the back seat of a bullet-riddled car on June 30, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. More than 300 people have been killed and more than 1700 wounded by gunfire in Chicago this year. On June 1, a task force was formed by the Chicago police, Illinois state police and the ATF to combat the gun violence in the city. ATF has formed similar task forces on a temporary basis to fight regional spikes in gun violence. Chicago's task force is the only one in the nation formed with the idea to be permanent. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Chicago Police Department is engaged in a nationwide campaign to recruit police officers, but the city is still suffering from an “officer shortage.” With officers retiring and transferring to smaller departments, Chicago appears to be down nearly 1,600 officers.

“Chicago police officers aren’t only retiring in record numbers, many are leaving the big city department for smaller ones,” the city’s CBS affiliate reported Tuesday. “It’s contributing to an officer shortage that many city leaders believe will only get worse before it gets better.”

Officers who spoke to CBS Chicago noted that the problems go beyond simple burnout, though that is a contributing factor to many officers’ decision to leave the department. Officers cited long working hours, mandatory overtime, and low pay as reasons they departed Chicago for other cities or decided to simply leave the force entirely.

At least one Alderman, though, added that being a Chicago cop is a thankless job, and it has only gotten harder in recent years.

“People don’t want to be the police. The police don’t want to be the police,” Alderman Anthony Beale of Chicago’s 9th Ward told the paper, adding that the problem is actually worse than the city will admit.

“The Chicago Police Department’s training academy will churn out a virtual conveyor belt of recruits — with monthly classes October through December and all of next year — to fill 877 sworn vacancies triggered, in part, by an avalanche of police retirements,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported last month. “By July 31, 640 Chicago police officers already had put in their retirement papers. Budget Director Susie Park told the City Council’s Committee on Budget and Government Operations she expects that attrition rate to rise to 725 officers by year’s end.”

“The department is struggling to fill 1,066 vacancies — 877 of them among sworn officers. The other 189 are civilian positions,” the outlet noted.

Beale, though, says that number is misleading. “People fail to realize last year we wiped out 614 vacancies out of last year’s budget, and when we talk about that we’re down 1,000 officers, we’re actually down 1,600 officers,” he said.

There are not many willing to fill those slots, even if Chicago’s police academy is trying to speed up the process for training officers.

“At a budget hearing this week, Police Supt. David Brown told committee members about 5,000 people have applied to Chicago’s police academy this year, compared to around 30,000 in years past,” CBS Chicago noted. Ald. Beale says he believes there are fewer than 100 people currently in the police academy, and given the department’s rate of attrition among recruits, only about half of those are expected to graduate.

Chicago is suffering through a spike in crime making a police shortage all the more difficult to weather. Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ reported in September that “Chicago murders are outpacing any year in a quarter-century.” So far, according to unofficial counts, more than 3,000 people have been shot and more than 600 killed. Over the past 12 months, nearly 800 people have been murdered, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

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