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Effort To Allow Chicagoans With 'Minor' Records To Join CPD Stalled

By Heather Cherone | February 17, 2017 5:31am
 An effort to allow Chicagoans with minor drug and criminal offenses to apply to become Chicago police officers has stalled, 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale said Thursday.
An effort to allow Chicagoans with minor drug and criminal offenses to apply to become Chicago police officers has stalled, 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale said Thursday.
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Chicago Police Department

CHICAGO — An effort to allow Chicagoans with minor drug and criminal offenses to apply to become Chicago police officers has stalled, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said Thursday.

Although the measure was introduced in December with the support of three powerful aldermen, it has yet to be heard by a City Council committee.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) — chairman of the City Council's Black Caucus — and Ald. George Cardenas (12th) — chairman of the Latino Caucus — joined the senior member of the council, Ald. Edward Burke (14th), to introduce the measure. It was based on an Obama administration initiative designed to increase police force diversity.

Beale, who is the chairman of the council's transportation committee, said he was unhappy the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel was not "willing to make any changes."

"We are not trying to lower the standards," Beale said.

Instead, the measure — designed to "apply a a greater standard of fairness," according to Burke — puts "a wall in front of the African-American community," Beale said.

"I'm trying to tear down that wall," Beale said.

A spokesman for Emanuel did not respond to questions about the Police Department's hiring standards.

In December, Emanuel said he was open to changing the standards.

"It has to be small in my view," Emanuel said of the allowable offense, adding that he did not want a minor issue to stand in the way of someone "fulfilling their aspirations."

Earlier this month, more than 16,500 Chicagoans applied to join the Police Department, city officials announced.

But Beale said he expected a significant number of those applicants to be disqualified because of unpaid bills or minor legal scrapes.

Beale pledged to take action if that turns out to be the case.

Emanuel has promised to add 970 positions to the Police Department over the next two years: 516 police officers, 200 detectives, 112 sergeants, 50 lieutenants and 92 field training officers. The department also will fill 500 vacant positions.

Emanuel has repeatedly pledged that the new officers will be as diverse as the city they will be charged with policing.

The Police Department is now 48.5 percent white, 27.5 percent black, 20.7 percent Hispanic and 2.5 percent Asian, based on data provided by the city. Chicago as a whole is 32.2 percent white, 31.5 percent black, 28.9 percent Hispanic and 5.7 percent Asian, according to the 2014 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census.

Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Thursday welcomed the newest class of 96 recruits entering the police academy, and charged them with rolling back the surge in violence that started last year and has shown no sign of slowing down in the first month of 2017, with just as many shootings and murders in January 2017 as in January 2016.

"Thank you for answering the call," Johnson said. "You will be part of the change people have been asking for."

Emanuel acknowledged this has been a particularly tough week in Chicago, with three children slain in gun violence.

"Your job will be to work to ensure the laughter of children is not replaced by the sound of gunfire," Emanuel said.

Emanuel and Johnson have vowed to implement reforms ordered by federal officials after a Department of Justice investigation found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force against minorities and tolerated "racially discriminatory conduct" by officers.

That investigation found serious problems with how the Police Department trains officers, and said it was not clear that graduates are prepared to patrol Chicago's streets "lawfully and effectively."

Also Thursday, Emanuel's office updated aldermen on the progress of the effort to change the way officers found to have committed misconduct are disciplined. Earlier this week, the council's Progressive Reform Caucus called on the mayor to outline his plan to reform the department.

The caucus often opposes measures supported by Emanuel.

A spokesman for Emanuel did not respond to questions about those meetings with aldermen.