The Summer of Blood
This has been the summer of blood. Not only red blood but the blue blood that courses through the veins of all the brothers in blue with names like Airhart, Robbins, Valadez, Taylor, Francis, Haymaker, Soderberg, Wortham and now Bailey. When will it stop? Not soon I'm afraid. And I'm even more afraid to admit that once Michael Bailey's funeral is over we'll just have to start planning for the next one.
Whether anyone wants to admit it or not we are now in a very brutal and violent time. Citizens are being shot, stabbed and killed with a frequency that we haven't seen in some time. Even if the numbers are still low so that the City and the Department can cloud the issue, the facts remain that citizens as well as Chicago Police Officers are being attacked, injured and killed with alarming frequency. You have to ask why?
I wish I knew and I wish I had a simple answer for the problem. I don't. What I do know and can clearly see after 28 years on this job is that we are so low in manpower that it's becoming difficult to properly police. Captains and lieutenants are juggled on a regular basis in an attempt to fill the Watch Commander positions throughout the city, so much so that administrative lieutenants are being detailed to District Law Enforcement. Street sergeants are juggling 12-15 cars a shift on their logs. There aren't enough of them to go around. Detectives have case loads double and triple what they had 3-5 years ago. And the beat cops, what few there are, are staffing one-man cars with frightening regularity.
I remember a time at District roll calls where you were hard pressed to find a one-man car. On afternoons and midnights they were virtually non-existent. One man cars may work in the suburbs and they may work in other departments but in a city like Chicago they are a hazard to every cop who is assigned to work in one. This is just too dangerous a place.
We answer a greater percentage of 9-1-1 calls than any other big city in the country. What that means, simply, is that for every alarm, disturbance, suspicious person or auto, domestic, shoplifter, etc, at least two cars are dispatched. When that happens, the few cars that are on the street are depleted even more. Each of those calls described above could be handled by a single two-man unit. But they aren't. They are being handled by one-man cars. That's an officer safety nightmare and I can foresee the day that a one-man car arrives to a call that is over his (her) head and we face another tragedy.
So what's the answer? I really don't know. But I do know that there can be a number of changes that will ease the burden. One thing to do is get back to basic policing. The priority of the street cops should be to promptly answer the 9-1-1 calls and strive to reduce crime. All crime. Just like the Broken Windows Theory has proven, if you control the little things you will also control the bigger problems. I really don't think that we need a thousand or more officers in specialized units. Let's face it. These units are "working on the dots" where the crime is occurring and it's still happening. They can be cut back dramatically and/or eliminated and the officers put back into the Districts where they are desperately needed. If they can't be divvied up between all 25 Districts, then identify the 15 most violent and assign them all there. After all, isn't this what CAPS is all about – cops in the neighborhoods learning the chronic problems and working with the civilians to solve their problems. I wrote in a previous article that this is exactly what San Diego did and it worked quite well for them.
There should be a comprehensive plan to readjust the 911 and 311 calls so that the police are not sent out on every call. I could give example after example of the ridiculous things that beat cars respond to on a regular basis, assignments that could easily be handled over the phone or are actually the purview of another city agency. This would free up the police to handle the potentially more troublesome calls, as well as freeing them up a bit to be more proactive.
Judges, juries, states attorneys and the entire corrections system must also be held accountable for their actions. Recidivist criminals, especially those with violent backgrounds need to be locked up. They are vicious animals and vicious animals need to be caged so that the prey is protected. The criminal justice system has to reduce the number of plea deals, alternative sentencing and parole for this type of criminal. Until a system is developed where we can be positive that rehabilitation works, then locking up the bad guy is the only answer.
Finally, our politicians and city leaders need to find the money to hire more police. The city's safety should never be sacrificed for any beautification program. Although tourists love to visit a beautiful city, they also love to visit safe ones. Just check out what happened to Miami's reputation when their tourists started falling prey to the criminals. Gardens, trees and wrought iron fencing should be placed on the back burner until the economy improves and that money should be redirected toward police hiring. Also on the back burner should be the monies invested in PODs and other fancy technologies, not only for the police department but for all city agencies. That technology money should go toward increasing manpower. These things are viable policing tools when you have the police on the street that could use the technologies but the fact remains that no camera, blackberry or GPS device ever put cuffs on a miscreant. Only a cop can do that.
Whatever we do we have to do something. And fast. We owe to these police officers who gave their lives for this City. Every time that I attend a slain officer's funeral service a part of me dies. And we are all dying too often.
Robert H. Stasch