Updated 03/26/11 – 10:19 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Interim Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard said Friday that patrol officers are the backbone of the department, so he’s moving 70 officers from specialized units to patrol and putting 400 plainclothes tactical and gang unit officers in uniform.
Hillard said beat cops are the key to making neighborhoods safer by giving the department more visibility. Staffing and visibility are his priorities while he’s the city’s top cop until Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel picks his replacement.
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The superintendent said the moves will help stop crime from going up as the city heads into the warmer spring and summer months.
“Patrol, patrol, patrol,” Hillard said at a news conference at Police Headquarters to announce upcoming manpower changes.
Hillard said officers in uniform patrolling the streets form the backbone of the police department.
As CBS 2’s Pamela Jones reports, Hillard has shifted more than 70 officers from specialized assignments to patrol and nearly 400 other officers who were in tactical assignments will also wear uniforms and hit the streets.
It’s a noticeable shift from his predecessor, Jody Weis, who focused on using citywide specialized and tactical units to respond to shifting crime hot spots based on the latest intelligence.
Although the redeployed officers did not come from the mobile strike force or targeted response unit that formed a key element of Weis’ crime-reduction strategy, Hillard did not rule out the possibility of that happening in the future.
“My mandate is going to be, unless you work in narcotics, there’s a possibility that any and everybody is going to be in patrol, even the command staff,” Hillard said.
Hillard said he knows his plan could draw criticism, but it’s a small price to pay for safer streets.
“I’m more than certain the mayor didn’t put me in this position to come over and get paid for 10 weeks just to sit up there and not do anything,” Hillard said. “The Police Department still has to run. We still have issues and concerns and crises that happen every day and we have to address them.”
Hillard said he wants more officers answering calls and getting to know residents and neighborhoods.
Police said they’ll target high crime areas first.
Emanuel, who has pledged to put 1,000 more beat officers on the street, said he likes the idea.
“I applaud that philosophy,” Emanuel said. “This decision to take police officers away from a specialized unit into a beat officer approach is one piece of a comprehensive approach.”
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Hillard said beat officers need more help and this is the best way to give it to them.
Despite the continuing shake-up at the department, Hillard said he is doing nothing that is out of line with Chicago Police practice over the years, and said he intends to exit the interim superintendent’s job “right behind the mayor” when Daley leaves office May 16.
Hillard said he will order rigorous enforcement of curfew and a crackdown on parties and gatherings that can get out of hand during school breaks and warmer weather.
He also said that more than 140 police recruits are working to determine crime patterns in Area 2, which encompasses much of the South Side, and where some of the worst problems have occurred in recent years.