CHICAGO, IL – Chicago already has registered more homicides than it did during all of last year. Now, the Chicago Police Department is on pace to break an all-time record that could make it more difficult to stop the bloodshed: police retirements in a single year.
Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields disclosed Monday that the ranks of 2012 retirees will top 580, breaking the old record of 570 in 2004.
Through Oct. 31, 475 officers had retired. According to Shields, an additional 105 officers met a Nov. 1 deadline to file the paperwork to take advantage of the city’s offer of premium health-care benefits for those who retire at 55.
Over the last decade, 4,178 city officers have retired from the force, an average of 417 officers a year.
Retirements ranged from 261 in 2009 to the previous high of 570.
Equally troubling to Shields is the fact that the city has hired just 190 officers so far this year.
That means Chicago is falling behind when it comes to police manpower after a three-year hiring slowdown and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to balance his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies, he said.
Under fire to reverse a surge in homicides that spiked 66 percent in March, Emanuel has promised to hire 450 officers by Dec. 31 and 500 officers next year to reach an authorized strength of 12,538 officers.
But Shields said the city could be hard-pressed to keep pace with the number of officers walking out the door.
“When my dad retired, you had to work 32 years to get a [maximum] pension, but everybody worked longer. They wanted to. Now, it’s 29 years and guys aren’t staying a day longer than they have to,” Shields said.
“A lot of it has to do with morale and not being able to get time off,” he said. “You have to worry about getting sued every single time you put somebody under arrest. It’s really a different job than it was even 10 years ago. Fear of getting sued. Getting suspended. It’s a different era of policing. People are too quick to put the blame on Chicago Police officers.”
Sarah Hamilton, Emanuel’s communications director, responded to the retirement surge by saying: “The mayor has been clear that we will consistently hire to ensure that the Police Department remains at full strength, enrolling 450 or more recruits this year and continuing to hire through the next year to ensure we maintain full strength.”
Another top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous, questioned the retirement numbers Shields obtained as a member of the board overseeing the police pension fund.
The Emanuel aide said the city got “letters of intent” from 80 officers by the Nov. 1 deadline — 25 fewer than the number provided by Shields.
The mayoral aide also insisted that 250 officers are in the police academy and that some of them would be graduating by mid-December, followed by more graduating classes “every month for a good five or six months.”
More important, the Emanuel aide insisted, no matter how many officers retire, the mayor is determined to fill those vacancies.
“If we fall behind this year, we’ll make up for it next year. However many leave, we’ll hire. . . . You only fall behind if you don’t plan to fill” all of the vacancies, the mayoral aide said.