On a day when many Council watchers expected fireworks, there were few true explosions from aldermen during Tuesday’s nearly six-hour Police Department budget hearing with Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Even the biggest firecracker in the meeting, Budget Chair Carrie Austin, seemed to turn around by the hearing’s conclusion, “I’ve seen a different Garry. Not a Superintendent, but a different Garry…the one thing that I have seen that I have not seen in the past, and that’s compassion. Thank you for that.”
Other Black Caucus members, such as Ald. Michelle Harris (8), Ald. Greg Mitchell (7), and Ald. Emma Mitts (37), who all called for Supt. McCarthy’s firing the day before, approached him after the final gavel to shake his hand, and smiled as they parted ways.
Supt. McCarthy expressed surprise in a press conference after the hearing that tensions with the Black Caucus had mounted so much so that they called for his firing. “I just met with the Black Caucus for a couple of hours a few days ago, and the same conversations we had here, we had in that room, with the exception of one or two folks who were not there. So it did catch me a little off guard. You have to be prepared for surprises in this business, I guess.”
The day’s biggest contrasts were drawn between Black Caucus aldermen and a cadre of white aldermen who mostly had praise for Supt. McCarthy and CPD, efforts Ald. Austin described as “lopsided”. Great on the North Side, but “a bucket of blood” elsewhere.
Attendance: Budget Chair Carrie Austin (34), Joe Moreno (1), Brian Hopkins (2), Pat Dowell (3), Will Burns (4), Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), Gregory Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Anthony Beale (9), Sue Sadlowski Garza (10), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), George Cardenas (12), Marty Quinn (13), Ed Burke (14), Raymond Lopez (15), Toni Foulkes (16), David Moore (17), Matt O’Shea (19), Willie Cochran (20), Howard Brookins Jr. (21), Ricardo Munoz (22), Michael Zalewski (23), Michael Scott Jr (24), Danny Solis (25), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Jason Ervin (28), Chris Taliaferro (29), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Nicholas Sposato (38), Marge Laurino (39), Anthony Napolitano (41), Brendan Reilly (42), Michele Smith (43), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Ameya Pawar (47), Harry Osterman (48), Joe Moore (49)
It was a packed house. Only Ald. Derrick Curtis (18) (who has been on his honeymoon), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Ald. Pat O’Connor (40), and Ald. Deb Silverstein (50) did not attend.
McCarthy started the meeting by getting ahead of his critics’ main bones of contention by reading his full, written statement outlining CPD’s response to recent violence:
- Adding extra saturation units, which can be deployed quickly to address gang violence.
- A change that every illegal gun possession arrest will be assigned a dedicated detective, to arrest and charge anyone involved in an illegal gun transfer at any point in its history.
- Prioritizing city services for higher crime communities. Those communities will get their service requests–lighting, broken windows, abandoned buildings, and overgrown bushes–handled first.
Then, Supt. McCarthy responded to hours of questioning from aldermen frustrated with insufficient police response to problems in their ward.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9), one of the Superintendent’s most vocal opponents, didn’t ask Supt. McCarthy questions, only telling him that he’s tried to work with the police department on crime in his ward several times “to no avail.”
Ald. Michelle Harris (8) said CPD’s CAPS outreach was poorly staffed, and cops weren’t addressing quality of life issues.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28) said, “the same items we discussed in 2011 are the same items we’re discussing going into 2016… What do you plan to do different?” Ald. David Moore (17), and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) brought up McCarthy’s firing again.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) criticized $30 million in spending on Operation Impact, a saturation program in high crime areas. “I cannot continue to try to justify $100 million in overtime when we have no results. We don’t have crime down. We have not reduced any of the violence at all. I don’t under when enough is enough or when you get signaled that it’s not working.” Supt. McCarthy disagreed, and said reductions in Impact zones have been significant.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44) said there have been big staffing reductions in his ward since the merger of the 19th and 23rd police districts, from 468 officers to 333. Supt. McCarthy apologized, and said he used to have a map to review staffing on a daily or weekly basis. “I got away from that, we’ll get it fixed. I take the hit.”
Ald. Harry Osterman (48) told McCarthy the spike in crime near Argyle and thousands of shooting victims city-wide were “eating the soul of the city out.”
“What can we do as elected officials?” Ald. O’Shea (19) asked about 90 minutes into the hearing, “Because I think we all have some responsibility in all this.”
Supt. McCarthy took pains to illustrate the illegal gun problem in Chicago, repeating a statistic that the city has seven times more guns than New York City. He pointed to some department victories, saying 5,500 illegal guns have been taken off the streets in 2015 alone, and gun arrests are up, but “We’re drinking from a fire hose…I don’t know if that resonates with anyone,” he said, audibly frustrated.
That set off Budget Chair Carrie Austin, seated immediately to McCarthy’s left. “You’re not answering Alderman O’Shea. All 49 of us that sit here today, what is it that YOU can tell us that we can do?
“Let’s get on a bus and go to Springfield,” Supt. McCarthy responded.
“And if you get the law changed, what is it still that we can do as elected officials that’s going to better our community and allow our children to have a life to live?” Austin asked.
“Hold the entire system accountable. I’m being held accountable right now…” Supt. McCarthy said.
Austin interrupted, “As are we!” Ald. Austin wanted something concrete. “Don’t tell me about no more legislation. We don’t control them. What we control is what is here.” She said the Police Department doesn’t pay attention to issues in her ward.
“There’s not a magic solution to this, and I can’t tell you one thing that’s going to change this,” Supt. McCarthy said. He said teamwork between legislators, prosecutors, the judiciary, and police is the answer to systemic problems, and pointed again to a need for change from Springfield. He said CPD could make arrests, but the bar for getting cases prosecuted is high, and his officers are arresting criminals with long rap sheets who get to go back out on the street.
As the afternoon wore on, it was marked by a fundamental disagreement between Supt. McCarthy and his staunchest critics about the solution for violence in the city, with Supt. McCarthy insisted CPD has made significant headway, but deep, systemic problems persisted. “I constructed New York’s crime strategies…I know what needs to happen. It’s the clearest thing on earth to me…Quite frankly I believed that we were getting some momentum on the issue, it was happening behind the scenes, it was happening in front of the cameras, and I’m concerned about this being derailed right now.” Supt. McCarthy said his goal is tracking down guns, finding trafficking patterns, and getting cases all the way to convictions.
Black Caucus aldermen continued to slam Supt. McCarthy on quality of life issues. From the sale of loose cigarettes and marijuana to public drinking, many black aldermen said they felt smaller crimes on the South Side were low on the Police Department’s priority list. Supt. McCarthy later said quality of life issues seemed to be the biggest complaint of the day.
Non-Black Caucus aldermen for the most part praised Supt. McCarthy and district commanders, using their allotted 10 minutes of questions to ask about vacation time for overtime officers, money spent on police settlements, sexual assault cases, and about tickets, or Administrative Notices of Violation (ANOVs).
Making his first appearance at a budget hearing this season, Ald. Ed Burke (14), a former police officer, offered complete support of Supt. McCarthy and the Police Department as a whole. “A lot of frustration I hear today is out of the hands of police. I think we’ve got the best police department in the nation,” he told Supt. McCarthy, “Chicago has the best big city police chief in the country today.”
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41), another former police officer, also offered his praise, and said everyone should work to boost police morale, instead of pointing fingers. “Everybody wants answers…we need to realize what’s going on here. Kids aren’t out there just being knuckleheads, this is about money. This is about territory. This isn’t just ah, it’s nice out, I’m gonna shoot somebody…your job is harder than any job. More people need to get in that squad car,” and said Chicago violence needs to be classified as a war.
While Supt. McCarthy said there were more cops per capita than any other big city, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) a cop for 21 years right up until his election last April, pushed back. He had specific complaints about low staffing, a lack of morale, the violence reduction initiative being a failure, and a proliferation of shootings and sexual assaults in his West Side ward. He said he wasn’t speaking as a cop, but for his constituents when he called for Supt. McCarthy’s resignation Monday. “We need real resources…the responses we got the other day [at the Black Caucus meeting], Superintendent, they were as if they came from a car salesman.”
By the end of the night, only a few of the biggest stakeholders were left. Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), who had a shooting in front of his ward office and a gathered stack of headlines about violence in his ward, including the death of a grandmother and pregnant mom; a collection of black caucus members, who the day before had called on Supt. McCarthy to quit; Public Safety Chair Ariel Reboyras (30), who’d stayed silent all day; and Chairman Austin, who hours before had told the crowd to stay orderly, then gave the most passionate testimony, sitting right next to Supt. McCarthy.
By hour five of testimony, at 6:00 p.m., where the press box had earlier contained a horde, it held a mere 3 reporters. There were less than 20 stragglers in the gallery, a more measured tone from those left.
Reboyras painted both sides, saying quality of life issues are problems across the City, even as he has few problems in his own ward. “I don’t expect you or the Chicago police officers to quit on us. I think it’s going to be full speed ahead,” he said. “I also want to reiterate that we are going to vote on the largest property tax increase in Chicago…but we need to address what our colleagues have said today…we as aldermen are being blamed.”
At the end of the evening, Ald. Carrie Austin asked for the second time, after more than five hours of contentious testimony, “I won’t reiterate my displeasure, but I will still say it again, over and over, Superintendent, what is it that we can do to help you help us?” she asked. “We need to have a strategy… and when we can get that, then we can be a better Chicago, we don’t have to be Chiraq anymore… I think you’re doing as well as can be expected, but we expect more. We really expect more.”
Supt. McCarthy told reporters after the long day he had no intentions to step down. He said there was too much work to be done.
And he was backed up by Mayor Rahm Emanuel earlier in the day, when during a press conference he said, “I stand by the Superintendent, I stand by the men and women of the police department and I stand by the culture of professionalism of the Police Department.”
Other figures revealed during testimony:
- Of the 319 officers Mayor Emanuel has planned to transition from desk to beat duty, more than half, 167, will start this year as detention aides and property custodians. 90 of those officers will be placed on high crime saturation teams.
- The Department has 201 vacancies. Those will be filled at least in part by a new class of recruits coming in at the end of October, and another in November.
- $30M has been spent on crime initiatives in 2015 in 20 operation impact zones.
- CPD issued 125,000 Administrative Notices of Violation, or ANOVs, this year. McCarthy says 65% of them have gone toward the four top quality of life complaints: people smoking marijuana, public drinking, public urination, and gambling.
- McCarthy says he’s in favor of body cameras, in general, and there is currently a grant-funded pilot program in place, but would take a significant investment to make body cameras happen Department-wide.
- Civilian complaints against police are in decline, McCarthy says, down double digits compared to last year, and a quarter less than 4 years ago.
- Police-involved shootings are down 38% from last year.