CITY HALL — Chicago Police Department officials Friday defended the number of murders they solve every year while acknowledging that they can do better, especially on the city’s South Side.
Deputy Chief Melissa Staples told aldermen that Chicago Police solve approximately 47 percent of all murders. She blamed the news media for incorrectly calculating the clearance rate by not counting murders committed in previous years that were solved in the current year.
Staples said the department’s clearance rate has risen approximately 17 percentage points since 2016, when the department endured a “perfect storm” of rising murders and declining numbers of detectives.
That prompted the clearance rate to hit an “unacceptable low” of approximately 30 percent, Staples said.
In 2004, the murder clearance rate was 79 percent, Staples said. That year, murders fell below 500 for the first time in 40 years, according to department statistics.
Nearly 60 percent of all murders committed in the Area Central division are solved, Staples said. However, just 47 percent of murders committed in the Area North division are solved — and only 35 percent of murders in the Area South division are cleared, Staples said.
In addition, just 22 percent of murders involving black victims are solved, while 33 percent of murders involving Hispanic victims end in an arrest. By comparison, 75 percent of all murders involving an Asian victim are solved while 47 percent of murder cases where the victim is white are solved, Staples said.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) asked Staples to provide evidence that murders in her ward — which includes Garfield Park, one of the most violent community areas — were investigated the same way as murders on the North Side are treated.
“In our community, murders don’t get solved,” Mitts said, adding that many of her ward’s residents don’t feel comfortable talking to detectives.
When Staples took over the Bureau of Detectives in 2016, it had 854 detectives after years of having approximately 1,300 detectives, she told aldermen.
After a hiring push started by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2017, there are now 1,149 detectives on the Chicago Police Department — but only 140 are assigned to solve murders, Staples said.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said he was struggling to understand why so few detectives were assigned to solve murders.
Staples said the department was adequately staffed, with most detectives handling between seven and eight cases at a time.
Public Safety Committee Chair Ald. Chris Tailaferro (29th), who called the hearing and also represents the West Side, said that was too few — and the lack of detectives was directly responsible for the department’s low clearance rate.
“I think you can draw a direct line,” Taliaferro said, adding that he would ask police officials to report on the murder clearance rate every quarter
Taliaferro praised Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s announcement on Friday that she would reassign 151 officers and 11 fire department employees, who now work in administrative roles, to patrol Chicago’s neighborhoods.
As part of the change, the new Office of Public Safety Administration will oversee payroll, information technology work and human resources for the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. No positions will be cut or employees laid off as part of the change, which must be approved by the City Council, officials said.
The new office — which will include 280 employees at the Police Department’s Bronzeville headquarters — will “generate savings over time,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office.
In addition, Taliaferro lauded Lightfoot’s decision to reverse a decision by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and reopen the Harrison Area on the West Side and Grand Central Area on the Near Northwest Side detective bureaus in an effort “to expand the department’s crime-solving and crime-response resources” by moving detectives closer to the areas where they are investigating crimes, officials said.
The City Council approved Emanuel’s push to close the bureaus in 2011 as part of an effort to close a $636 million budget deficit.
“The reform will allow more detectives to remain in the field for casework, cutting down on travel times and overtime costs,” according to the mayor’s office.
The new Office of Public Safety Administration, set to launch in May 2020, will also be charged with developing “long-term strategies to decrease overtime,” which cost the city more than $200 million annually, according to the announcement.
A search for an executive director to lead the agency is underway, officials said.
In January 2013, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson urged the department to move approximately 300 officers from administrative jobs to patrol duties. A year later, Ferguson’s office found that limited progress had been made, according to a follow-up report.
In June 2016, Supt. Eddie Johnson announced that 150 sworn officers had been moved from administrative jobs to patrol duties as part of a push launched by Emanuel to fill 300 Police Department jobs with civilians.
Taliaferro, a former police officer, said it was likely that leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents most rank-and-file officers, would object to the move to reduce efforts to limit the kind of jobs that can be filled by sworn officers, who are typically better paid than civilian employees.