Mayor Rahm Emanuel is under fire for announcing a plan to hire almost 1,000 new police officers within the next two years as a way to curb the growing violence problem that threatens the entire city.
In addition to the new officers, Emanuel’s plan, announced in a Sept. 22 speech, also includes de-escalation training for current and newly-hired officers to decrease police brutality and increase productivity, partnerships with local businesses to provide jobs to disadvantaged youth and a mentorship program for struggling young men.
In 2015, there were 468 homicides in the city of Chicago, up from 416 the previous year. As of Sept. 30, there have already been 566 homicides. Shootings have also been occurring in locations usually seen as safe, like an Aug. 31 shooting at Buckingham Fountain and a Sept. 24 fatal shooting near Millennium Park.
Emanuel has provided no answers about the source for funding for this plan, insisting he will find the money somehow. While Chicago—and Illinois as a whole—continues to struggle with budget problems, it is important to look at the whole picture when thinking about the cost of Emanuel’s plan. The money put into hiring new police officers—paying their salaries and pensions as well as ensuring everyone employed by the Chicago Police Department is properly trained—will not be wasted.
Hiring new officers will restore the police department to a size it hasn’t been since 2011 when severe cuts were made to the department. The plan also accounts for 200 new detectives, which will help long-term.
Detectives are crucial for solving crimes effectively and accurately, therefore preventing further criminal activity by those caught, because 80 percent of homicides in Chicago do not get solved . However, it is important for Emanuel to remember that only increasing CPD’s numbers will not fix the problem; the city must also go straight into dangerous communities and work with those directly affected.
Emanuel provides a good start by planning community outreach measures such as his job creation program and other plans for keeping youth from getting involved in crime. If anything, community outreach and youth education are more important in curbing gang violence than putting more money into policing. This should be the focus of Emanuel’s anti-violence plan because violence in Chicago is indicative of a much deeper problem than the size of its police force.
Often, young people join gangs because of a lack of other options. It is important that Emanuel focus on providing these options, so no young person thinks they have nowhere else to turn except a life of crime.
However, hiring new officers will provide relief to police who often work overtime to monitor the city. The new program will eliminate substantial reliance on overtime, allowing officers to work normal hours. The money saved will go toward the new officers’ salaries and pensions, though it is not enough to completely cover it.
While questions remain about the efficacy of Emanuel’s anti-violence plan, it is a sincere step toward a safer future. As long as he focuses on treating the problem at its source, there can be room for policing to be effective. The additional officers should just be a bonus to a community-oriented approach.