Officer shortage in 16th District getting worse
by BRIAN NADIG
A staffing shortage impacting the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District for years has been made worse by a large number of the district’s officers being sidelined by COVID-19, other illness and injuries, according to Northwest Side aldermen.
On two occasions last week during the overnight shifts, the district had police officers assigned for only about half of its 12 beats, but on one of the nights a decision was made to have the beat cars switch from two to one officer in each car so that more beats could be covered, according to sources.
On the other night only seven beat officers were working compared to a minimum of 26 needed to “safely” cover the 12 beats and two officers operating the district’s police wagon, one of the sources said. The district also did not have rapid response cars operating those evenings to assist the beat officers, according to sources.
When one officer per beat is on duty it usually means that a car from another beat is sent as a backup when officers are responding to a 911 call, one source said. In addition, if an arrest is made it could result in a beat not being covered for hours during the processing, sources said.
Area aldermen were scheduled to meet with CPD superintendent David Brown to discuss the district’s staffing. Keith Thornton Jr., a city 911 dispatcher, recently posted a video showcasing the staffing issues at the 16th District, drawing increased attention to the matter.
Thornton is the same dispatcher who gained praise from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and media attention for his handling of the attack on officer Ella French and Carlos Yanez. French died and Yanez was wounded in the shooting.
The district reportedly has about 180 police officers and about 15 field-training officers assigned to it. Currently about 70 of the district’s officers are not available due to COVID-19 and other medical-related issues, Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said. Most of the officers with COVID-19 reportedly have been vaccinated.
“We’re down 50… people from 10 years ago,” Sposato said. He added that when he became alderman in 2011 the district had about 240 officers, which was down from about 270 in the early 2000s.
“Nobody wants this job anymore,” Sposato said of the city’s recent decrease in officers and the difficulty in recruiting new ones.
“Give us equity,” Sposato said. “Our beats (in the 16th District) are over 2-square miles … compared to about 4-square blocks” in some other sections of the city.
“We need more than 300 officers,” Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said. “I’ve been bringing it up for 7 years.”
Alderman James Gardiner (45th) said that while the district would benefit from a large influx of officers, it is equally important that society let police do their job, adding that policies such as bans on foot chases only embolden the criminals.
“We have gotten to the point where we are handcuffing the police. … Let them do their job,” Gardiner said. The focus needs to switch from police oversight to “oversight of the criminals,” he said.
Gardiner said he is concerned that any additional officers assigned to the district following the meeting with Brown will not keep pace with the district’s rate of attrition.
“One of the main reasons I voted against the 2021 budget was it allowed 615 police vacancies to go unfilled, which in my eyes is another form of ‘defund the police,’” Gardiner said.