CHICAGO — For the first time, the Police Department has a team solely focused on recruiting officers — but it faces an uphill battle as fewer people see policing as an “attractive job,” Chicago’s top cop told alderpeople Monday.
The city hopes to send 60-70 recruits through the academy every six weeks in 2022 and beyond, but it needs thousands more people to sign up to take the police entrance exam to keep pace with the above-normal attrition rate in the department, Supt. David Brown said.
“Millennials and Gen Z don’t see it as an attractive job, and the more we beat up our police officers, the more difficult it is to recruit people,” Brown said during a lengthy budget hearing on the department’s $1.9 billion 2022 budget request.
The hiring push includes placing Deputy Chief Yolanda Talley in charge of the team that will scour the nation to convince potential recruits to take the exam, which is now available in person and online.
“She wants to be in every community, she wants to be in every job fair, military bases, everywhere, including historically Black colleges and universities, to help us recruit,” Brown said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2022 budget proposal allocates funding for 13,176 uniformed officers; but with a surge in retirements, the city has to fill about 1,000 vacancies in the uniformed ranks, Brown said.
“We need a running pipeline of approximately 1,000 people to have a continuous flow of people graduating the academy, getting our training and getting our field training and being assigned,” he said.
Those officers are needed to combat crime and satisfy the demands of alderpeople who have pleaded for more officers in their wards, Brown said.
During the hearing, Brown walked a tightrope to push back against alderpeople who want even more police spending and those who suggested money should instead be allocated to violence prevention and social programs.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) suggested the department needs to send 100 recruits through the academy each month to repair the “sense of lawlessness” in his West Side ward.
“You don’t want to hire 100 or more a month because you will hire the wrong people,” Brown told him.
During other hiring surges, the department “hired 100 a month, and people slipped through the cracks and they embarrassed us later on,” Brown said. But hiring 60-70 people every six weeks “is likely what we can ensure are the right people to do this job, particularly a diverse group to do the job,” he said.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said the department’s citywide units, including a community safety team created last summer to respond to civil unrest, take resources away from neighborhood beats.
“The crime is in the districts,” Osterman said. “Putting officers on the ground in each district, that to me should be ballgame that we’re focused on, because part of building relationships with police is continuity in those communities.”
Brown said the community safety team began an overhaul last month that will remove 500 officers from the unit, with some of those returning to district assignments.
Southwest Side Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) said the department should aim to hire twice as many officers, up to 2,000.
“The constituents of the 13th Ward want more police. They’re frustrated by paying more in taxes and not seeing enough,” he said.
Brown said the number of sworn officers allocated in the budget is “enough” to staff the department.
“What we’ve learned from the pandemic is the lack of social services really escalates conflict and it escalates all the things that normally would be resolved without violence. Now we’re seeing extraordinary violence throughout this city and throughout the country,” Brown said. “If the focus is only on police, it really is wrongheaded, to be quite honest with you. It’s now how you’re going to resolve violence in our city or in our country.”
But Brown also fought a suggestion from several progressive alderpeople that department’s budget could be cut to fund increased spending on social programs. He said the department’s $1.9 billion budget is mostly allocated to salaries.
Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) said the department’s budget “is literally taking away from some of the other resources that we need.”
“I understand your position; I just disagree with it,” Brown said. “Most of the line-items are salaries. … To cut our budget and redirect resources means fewer police officers.”
The department’s 2022 budget request also includes funding to hire 11 additional mental health clinicians, bringing the total to 22, one for each of the city’s 22 police districts, Brown said.
Having a clinician available for each district will breed familiarity and help officers overcome “the stigma associated with wanting to ask for help,” he said. Three officers have died by suicide in 2021, and at least 11 have died by suicide since 2018, the Sun-Times reported in July.
“We want to encourage you that it’s OK to speak to a professional about your emotional or mental health,” Brown said.
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