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Jefferson Park Police District Has Fewest Officers Per Square Mile In City

By Alex Nitkin | April 18, 2017 6:28am
 The Jefferson Park police district has 266 officers officially assigned to it, according to numbers released by a watchdog Monday.
The Jefferson Park police district has 266 officers officially assigned to it, according to numbers released by a watchdog Monday.
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DNAinfo/Devlin Brown

CHICAGO — The Jefferson Park Police District remains the city's most sparsely served by area and population, despite a recent infusion of new officers, according to data released by a city watchdog Monday.

The quarterly report issued Monday by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson includes never-before-released data about the number of officers assigned to each of the city's 22 police districts and more than 77 special units, like drug and gang enforcement teams.

The Jefferson Park District is officially home to 266 officers, lieutenants and sergeants, although the real number today is closer to 246 because of officers temporarily assigned to other districts or units, according to district Cmdr. Bill Looney.

With about 32 square miles to cover, including O'Hare Airport, the district has a little more than eight police employees on-hand per square mile. Even if the airport wasn't counted, the district would still be the least-covered in the city, with about 12 police personnel per square mile.

The district also has by far the fewest officers per resident, with one police employee for every 750 people living in the district boundaries.

But the Far Northwest Side district's numbers have gradually crept up since the middle of 2015, when its ranks dipped to a low point of 188 officers, plus sergeants and lieutenants. That's already given police there a modest but pronounced boost in their ability to keep a watchful eye on their territory, Looney said.

Last year, leaders sometimes strained to fill the district's 12 squad cars, forced to choose between taking cars off the street and sending beat officers out on solo trips. But extra hands this year have made that problem rarer, which the commander called "huge."

"We're able to provide better and more timely service," Looney said. "I think all commanders would rather have more manpower, but we're doing OK with what we've got."

Officers under Looney's command have made more arrests and issued more traffic tickets so far this year than the first few months of last year, coinciding with a slight drop in reported crime in the area, according to city data.

Most of the district's reinforcements came from a 36-officer boost in the final months of 2016, as part of a promise Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson made to a group of Far Northwest Side aldermen who said their constituents had been left underserved.

One of those aldermen, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), said the numbers reported Monday show a gradual shift away from the old strategy of short-staffing police districts and making up for it by offering extra overtime hours.

A budget passed by the City Council last year lays the groundwork for 970 positions to be added in the department over the next two years, including 516 officers, leaving Villegas "satisfied that we're moving in the right direction," he said.

"It's just going to be a matter of making sure they get through the academy properly and getting them assigned to the areas with the greatest need, but we're going to have to make sure communities like ours aren't getting left behind," Villegas said.

But the extra officers have yet to make up for attrition — including in the Jefferson Park District, which has not filled the seats of 12 officers who retired this year, Looney said.

"The change from 2015 to current day is awesome, but are we fixing the problem? No," said 41st Ward Ald. Anthony Napolitano. "Because if you just keep promoting officers to make up for retirements, you're creating a big hole at the bottom."

Napolitano, who served as a firefighter before being elected alderman in 2015, said he will keep pushing for Police Department leaders to send personnel and resources to the city's far reaches, he said.

"We're still short an astronomical amount of police officers for the amount of growth in crime we've seen in the city in the past year," Napolitano said. "Personally, I would like to see us get well above 300."