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Downtown Chicago needs more cops and smarter policing

May 18, 2018

 

Alderman Brendan Reilly Op-Ed, Crain's Chicago Business May 18, 2018

 

People in every neighborhood in Chicago deserve the police resources needed to be safe in their communities. No one ward or neighborhood should be considered more important or deserving than another.

 

Still, regardless of where you live, you should care about the recent increase in certain crime stats downtown. You should care, not just because downtown is the weekday home to over 600,000 office workers from across the region, or because it is home to our tourism and hospitality industries, but especially because downtown is Chicago's economic engine -the one that pays the bills.

 

In recent years, Chicago has made great progress attracting major employers to relocate here. It is one of the fastest-growing tech startup cities in America. Our tourism and convention economy is booming, setting visitor records each year. Downtown has seen unprecedented investment and growth over the past decade-just look at the armada of tower cranes hovering over our city's skyline today.

 

Unfortunately, the many positive headlines about these impressive accomplishments are being crowded out by negative ones focused on the very serious and real public safety challenges our city is facing.

 

Over the past decade, the Chicago Police Department has been shrinking-a problem predating the Emanuel administration and one directly related to the city's precarious fiscal position over the past two decades. Years of poorly balanced budgets, out-of-control pension liabilities and foolish privatization deals left a succession of budget directors with few options to address the citywide need for more police.

 

Following the Great Recession a decade ago, the city's poor financial standing, coupled with rafts of police retirements, landed us where we are today, with a Police Department that is understaffed, overworked and spread thin.

 

For years, the city relied heavily on the use of police overtime, in lieu of new hires, to avoid the added costs that come with salaries, health care benefits and pension liabilities. That was a mistake.

 

In 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wisely chose to prioritize and accelerate hiring new officers across the city and to rely less upon overtime. Now Chicago is playing catch-up by aggressively recruiting new cadet classes and rapidly deploying them upon graduation.

 

But as the city works to add more cops, we must double down on creative strategies that have proved effective downtown. We must continue to increase the number of bike and foot patrol officers downtown. Taking officers out of squads and putting them on bikes or on foot ensures more are "closer to the problem" to better see and hear (or even smell) issues on a block-by-block basis.

 

We need to invest more in transit police details. Many committing crime downtown use the CTA as their means of transport. There is a correlation between turnstile-jumping and criminal activity downtown. Deploying more officers in Chicago Transit Authority el stations at points of origin and terminus-as well as improved communication between the CTA and police-will allow cops to better monitor and manage individuals and groups coming downtown.

 

Expanding our network of public and private security cameras, forming coordinated partnerships between Chicago police and campus police at downtown university campuses to serve as force multipliers, and better promoting citizen participation in CAPS programs can all help to stem the tide of crime in the central business district.

 

We're fortunate to have exemplary police commanders supported by hardworking officers downtown, and I will continue to do everything in my power to get them the tools they need to serve and protect our economic engine.

 

Ald. Brendan Reilly represents the 42nd Ward, which encompasses the Loop, River North, Streeterville and the West Loop.

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