Vacant police jobs might not be filled

News unwelcome in high-crime neighborhoods
CHICAGO The mayor says, when it comes to balancing the city's budget, everything is on the table. That includes, he says, the possibility that several hundred vacant police officer jobs will not be filled. That is not welcome news in the city's highest crime neighborhoods, where the police department says it doesn't always have enough people.

Cops who work in the city's 4th District call it the most dangerous police district in the city. The 4th District, South Chicago, is where, during the first eight months of this year, homicides increased 61 percent.

"This is not the first hit at this store," said Rebecca Price, former resident.

Price, who says she moved away from the 4th District's South Deering neighborhood, returned to there Thursday to grieve for the son of a family friend. Thirteen-year-old Sameer Conn was killed Wednesday night by a stray bullet that police believe was fired into a small grocery by an alleged gang member who was shooting at someone else.

Price and other residents say that police patrols in South Deering have decreased as violence and loitering by gang members has increased.

"I can count the children who have been shot over here on 108th and Bensley because of this violence," said Price.

"When they see a group of five or six people, young adults, gathering, they need to remove them. Make them scatter," said Denise Pearson, neighborhood resident.

A police department spokeswoman says all 25 districts are working with fewer officers as retirements and resignations have left the department with several hundred vacant patrol positions.

With a $420 million budget deficit to balance, Mayor Daley said this week the city still hasn't decided whether to fill those jobs.

"They're not being filled right now. Should they be filled? Yes. Can they be filled? I don't know. It all depends on the financial resources," said Ald. Edward Burke, council finance committee chairman.

The department spokeswoman said, "Specialized units are out in targeted areas where violence has spiked," but added that many of the same specialized units are assigned to special events, such as Wednesday night's Cubs game, which incidentally was underway when Sameer Conn was shot and killed.

"They're protecting the taxpayers that got the most tax coming out of their pocket, because they're the ones that have the money," said Price.

The Fraternal of Police President Mark Donahue contends the patrol shortage is worse than the city admits. He estimates that each district's manpower is down 10 to 15 percent, and that on midnight shifts, too many cops are working in one-man cars.

The mayor has promised a final decision on city job cuts, including police officer positions, later this month.

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