CITY HALL — A challenger to Mayor Rahm Emanuel accused him of breaking a campaign promise to hire 1,000 more police officers Monday while questioning the accuracy of Police Department crime statistics.
"This administration has failed in its commitment to improve public safety," said Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago) in a City Hall news conference.
Garcia said Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a campaign promise four years ago to hire 1,000 police officers, adding, "That did not occur."
Garcia said, if elected, he'd fulfill that promise.
"Instead, the people of Chicago have suffered through over 10,000 shootings over a four-year span," Garcia said.
Calling that "a reality that needs to be changed," Garcia proposed improved community policing, "restorative justice" and a jobs program, especially targeting "young people ... in the hardest-hit areas," to address street violence.
The Emanuel campaign responded that the mayor already had expanded a summer jobs program for youths to 22,500 positions, and had put 1,000 more officers into community policing by transferring them from desk duty.
"Chicago's crime problem is a gun problem," according to a "fact sheet" put out by campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry, which touted stronger state and federal gun laws as a solution.
At the same time, Garcia suggested that Police Department crime statistics showing that murders are approaching a 50-year low this year are not accurate.
"If anyone is responsible for any funny fudging of numbers in the City of Chicago, it is the administration of Mayor Emanuel," Garcia said. "I think the administration wants to paint a rosy picture because of their failure to honor the promise to hire 1,000 additional cops four years ago. They've tried to color the reality of it," he added, by claiming to have put more officers on the street rather than on desk duty.
He also pointed to a 15 percent increase in shootings this year, crediting health professionals for saving lives — a notoriously difficult statistic to track, due to medical privacy laws and other restrictions.
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy held a news conference Monday afternoon to tout a 2014 murder count expected to be the lowest since 1965.
Garcia estimated the cost of hiring 1,000 more officers to be as much as $120 million, but he said that it would be paid for in part by reducing the approximately $100 million in police overtime the department is spending on the Operation Impact initiative to target violent areas.
"I think Mr. Garcia's comments reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the city budget," said mayoral spokesman Adam Collins. He and police spokesman Marty Maloney said only about 40 percent of overtime was due to the Operation Impact initiative, and the rest went to court appearances, to special events like parades, and to officers being required to remain at crime scenes after their shifts had ended.
"You can't eliminate that," Collins said.
"In the last three years, we've graduated more than 1,000 officers" from the police academy, Maloney said. "And we have the most officers per capita of any of the five major cities in the country."
Maloney said relying on overtime gives the department more flexibility, as "bringing in an officer on overtime is cheaper than hiring a new officer."
Garcia said public safety and economic development go hand in hand, and he promised details on his program for economic development next month, including youth jobs in violent neighborhoods.
The election is set for Feb. 24. The field of 10 candidates who declared for the mayor's race is being being narrowed through petition challenges.
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