'Shell game'? Cops temporarily shifted to high-crime areas

July 12, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Department officials insist it is smart to put officers in places where crimes occur, but they say this is not part of a larger plan to strip other neighborhoods of officers.

Police insist this is not a redeployment of officers, but a temporary reassignment. The parsing of words may be because there are few issues as politically sensitive as beefing up police presence in some neighborhoods at the expense of others.

Ten dead. 40 wounded. It happened one weekend in May, and it was one of the reasons for a subtle shift in police manpower.

Officers who work in several North Side police districts reported for work, only to be told: Grab your radio and a car, you're working on the South Side today.

"They're doing it because they don't want to publicly say that there is a manpower problem," said Mike Shields with the Fraternal Order of Police.

ABC7 has learned that the move of officers out of lower-crime North Side neighborhoods to one violence-prone police district in the Grand Crossing neighborhood on the South Side happened over several weekends, and it led to a series of grievances filed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

"On paper, these officers are still working up in Ravenswood or up in the 20th District, but in reality, they're actually down on 71st Street and they're not working the neighborhood they should be working in, and if I was a taxpayer in Ravenswood, I would be livid," said Shields.

32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack says police staffing in his North Side ward is so thin, some officers ride alone in their cars without backup - yet several officers from his local police station were told to clock in here but spend their shifts policing the streets 15 miles away.

"If you're moving the pieces around that much, it's a shell game, and what I think the mayor needs to do is address this issue," said Waguespack.

Police spokesperson Maureen Biggane insists the switching of officers to work outside of their district was simply temporary.

"Command members across Areas stay in regular communication and are prepared to lend resources to assist other districts if necessary. Assignment of cars between areas has been done on a temporary basis in accordance with collective bargaining unit agreements," said Biggane in a statement.

"They don't want to talk about hiring new officers, they don't want to talk about the number of officers that have been retiring and that they're not able to replace, and that's where I see the problem," said Waguespack.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy disbanded some of the units that used to hopscotch around the city responding to flare-ups in crime, so these temporary reassignments may be among the few tools he has. However, he has also said that it is important to have the same officers working the same beats each day to build familiarity with neighborhoods.

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