Enough Chicago Cops to Put Down the City's Violence?

Video footage by Gideon Resnick, editing by Lorraine Ma / The Chicago Bureau

There was quite a fuss earlier this summer when Chicago’s police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, announced . The media jumped on it as evidence that the CPD was cracking down; some groups applauded the move as a necessary step to temper Chicago’s violence.

Although McCarthy said these new recruits are intended to replace those officers who retire annually, his statement reignited a long-standing debate about the ideal number of officers on the Chicago police force.

The has argued the CPD – at roughly 13,500 officers on the books, though some argue the actual number is quite a bit lower – is understaffed. To push for more hires, the group launched an advertising campaign and union President Michael Shields wrote in the about his efforts to “publicize the need for more manpower” – efforts he said have “finally paid off” in light of McCarthy’s announcement.

But the FOP is clear: More hiring is needed to keep Chicago’s streets safe and stem the violence that marred this summer. Taking care of attrition is the right move, the union says, but beefing up the actual on-the-street force is also needed.

Not all agree. For his part, Tracy Siska, executive director of the , said more officers does not mean a safer city. At least not through hiring alone, uncoupled from longer-term projects like bolstering social services. He notes that cities like Houston – with nearly the same population spread out over a larger area despite having half the cops and less crime – make do with less.

“There’s this belief in society that police do this huge amount of crime prevention work, and that’s really not what they’ve been doing through the history of America,” Siska said. “Most of what [police] do is responding to crime.”

Siska stressed the financial resources that would go towards hiring more officers should instead be used to establish jobs in the communities and fund services like mental health clinics.

“For some reason we keep pouring resources into police officers like it’s the only response to this violence,” Siska said.

Tracy Siska has written many essays on police manpower issues, including one that addresses the and another that illustrates the disconnect between .

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