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24 Percent Drop In Arrests Shows Police Officers Are Under Attack: Alderman

By  Heather Cherone and Alex Nitkin | August 22, 2017 2:26pm | Updated on August 23, 2017 9:51am

 A protester and police officer argue during a demonstration.
A protester and police officer argue during a demonstration.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

DUNNING —  A sharp drop in the number of arrests made by Chicago police officers last year is evidence that officers are "under attack," a Far Northwest Side alderman said Tuesday.

Officers made 85,493 arrests in 2016, a 24 percent drop from the year before — and a 44 percent drop from 2011, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, according to the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2016.

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Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said he was not surprised by the steep drop, first reported by the Sun-Times.

"These guys are scared to death to do their jobs," Sposato said after an event with Emanuel at Canty Elementary School in Dunning designed to tout rising test scores for students learning to speak English.

Police, said Sposato, are considered by some to be "wrong no matter what they do" and "they can't do anything right."

"They are afraid to do their jobs nowadays," Sposato said.

Teens should be taught to respect and cooperate with officers, the alderman said, adding that police "are just out to enforce the law." 

A former firefighter elected to the City Council in 2011 and re-elected in 2015, Sposato represents a ward that includes a high percentage of city employees, and he has long been one of the staunchest supporters of the Chicago Police Department.

Along with 41st Ward Ald. Anthony Napolitano, Sposato hosted a "Police Lives Matter" rally in June 2016 designed to protest what the aldermen said was the "abuse" officers were subjected to while on duty.

The drop in arrests between 2015 and 2016 came after a police officer shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald to death, ushering in what Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson called  "a time of unparalleled challenge" for the Police Department.

Leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police blamed the length of time it takes to complete a form every time officers stop someone for contributing to an 80 percent drop in the number of investigatory stops by officers last year. 

More than 730 people were slain in the city in 2016 — the highest tally since Chicago's poorest communities were ravaged by crack cocaine and violence in the ’90s.

That surge in violence has shown no sign of abating.

The forms were part of a 2015 landmark agreement between the Police Department and the American Civil Liberties Union designed to reduce the number of unwarranted and unlawful stops and searches by Chicago police officers.

The agreement was prompted by an ACLU investigation that found that a disproportionate number of black and Latino Chicagoans were stopped by officers.

Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois, has said the drop in the number of police stops is not connected to the crime rate.

A month ago, Johnson said that officers had taken more than 5,000 firearms off the streets this year, made more than 30 percent more arrests on gun-related charges and 10 percent more arrests for murder this year than in 2016.

A sweeping federal investigation completed in the waning days of the Obama administration found that as gun violence "overwhelmed" Chicago, its police force routinely violated the civil rights of residents by using excessive force caused by poor training and nonexistent supervision.

READ THE FULL U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORT HERE

In the wake of Laquan McDonald's death and federal officials' findings, Emanuel repeatedly has vowed to reform the Police Department and to hold officers to the highest professional standards — while encouraging proactive police work.

Emanuel has promised to expand the Police Department by 970 positions by the end of next year.

With the public outcry over controversial police shootings nationwide, a majority of officers now say they are less willing to stop and question suspicious people, and 86 percent say their work has become harder in the last year, according to a Pew survey.