Violence-plagued Chicago plans to hire nearly 1,000 more cops

CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department announced plans Wednesday to hire 970 new officers as the city faces a soaring homicide rate amid its most violent year in more than a decade.

The new posts will be filled over the next two years, boosting the department's force to more than 13,500 sworn officers once hiring is completed.

The city has already tallied more than 500 homicides in 2016 — more than New York and Los Angeles combined — and more than 3,000 non-fatal shootings. That puts Chicago on pace to record well over 600 murders for the year, a threshold it has not reached since 2003. The city regularly recorded more than 700 murders a year in the 1990s amid raging gang violence, driven by the crack-cocaine epidemic.

"Our police officers need as much help as they can get," Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in an announcement of the hiring plan.

The plan calls for adding 516 officers to some of Chicago's most crime-plagued neighborhoods, and promoting more than 200 officers to detective positions. In addition, the department intends to add 92 field training officers, 112 sergeants and 50 lieutenants to the ranks.

It is unclear how the city plans to pay for the hiring surge that would cost well over $100 million in the first year alone. Alderman Ariel Reboyras, the Chicago city council public safety chairman, said the budget will be detailed in the weeks ahead. A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not respond to a request for comment.

The city has seen a significant increase in every violent crime statistic it tracks. Murders are up 46% from last year, criminal sexual assaults have risen 18%, and robberies have increased 27%, according to police department data.

Johnson has blamed the recent surge in killings on increased gang activity and weak gun laws.

The violence also comes amid growing distrust between Chicago's African-American community and the police department following the release late last year of disturbing police dashcam video that showed a white police officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teen, 16 times on a city street. The court-ordered release spurred weeks of protests in Chicago and led the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into the police department's practices.

Johnson said an important part of winning back the public's trust is becoming a more effective police force, and increasing the number officers on the street is critical to achieving that goal.

“If we want to stop the violence, we need to find and arrest the people who are responsible for it," Johnson said. "If we want to earn the trust and respect of the people we serve, we must take their pain seriously and investigate every crime as if it’s a crime that happened to one of our children.”

Some law enforcement officials, including FBI Director James Comey, have suggested the release of viral videos, including the one of McDonald's shooting, could be linked to the spikes in violence and may be prompting changes in the way officers are policing their cities.

Earlier this week, former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy, who was fired from his position following the release of the McDonald video, suggested that police officers have been put in an untenable situation.

"The world is upside down right now," McCarthy said in a speech before the City Club of Chicago. "The police are not the problem in this country. The criminals are."

Follow USA TODAY Chicago correspondent Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad


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