DOWNTOWN — The mayor and a top challenger clashed Thursday over the number of police officers on the street.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago), who is running against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in February's municipal election, accused him of breaking a campaign promise to hire 1,000 new cops, and said he'd follow through on that if elected.
"I will keep the promise Mayor Emanuel broke — the promise to put 1,000 new police officers on the street," Garcia said in a South Side campaign appearance Thursday. "Without those officers, we will never be able to end the heartbreaking violence that has taken the lives of so many of our children."
Emanuel denied that he'd broken a campaign promise and said he'd shifted available officers from desk jobs to beats.
"We have taken the officers behind the desks to put them behind the wheels" of squad cars, he said Thursday at a news conference for a new Jeanne Gang skyscraper. "We eliminated ghost positions. We put more officers on the street."
Emanuel said it came down to allocating resources, adding, "Before I ask the taxpayers for more money, why is an officer behind a desk and not behind a wheel, when in fact they were trained to be behind a wheel or walk a beat?"
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who also is in the race, also has called for hiring more police officers.
The mayor's budget director, Alexandra Holt, has said hiring each officer would have an immediate cost of $100,000 in salaries and accompanying benefits.
According to Holt, the Police Department has 12,533 sworn positions, about 9,700 of those beat officers.
Both Garcia and Emanuel acknowledged that street crime is a complex problem that requires more than just a police response.
"Any approach to the crime problem must be multifaceted," Garcia said. "We need fewer guns, more ways to peacefully resolve conflicts and job opportunities that offer alternatives to criminal activity."
Emanuel likewise mentioned a summer jobs program as part of the answer to street violence.
The election is set for Feb. 24.
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