UPDATED: 9/19/2011 – 6:01 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Monday that some Chicago Police District stations might be closed as part of his administration’s plans to trim the budget and increase the number of beat cops.
Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy have been weighing the option as McCarthy is under pressure to put more officers on the street and cut nearly $200 million from the department’s budget.
WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports that Emanuel confirmed he is considering closing some of Chicago’s 25 police districts, but he said the move wasn’t about saving money, but freeing up more cops from administrative duties and putting them back on the streets.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore Reports
“Everything I’m thinking about is how to strengthen the beat officer to fight crime, not the bureaucracy,” he said.
The city has 25 police districts and each station has dozens of officers who never leave the building during their shift.
But as CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the response to possibly closing some of those stations – from aldermen, the police union and local residents – at best could be described as lukewarm.
Take the 21st District at 29th Street and Prairie Avenue, which is one of the older police stations in the city. It’s not far from the brand new 1st district at 17th and State streets. On the surface it would seem to make sense to combine the two and put more officers on the street.
But don’t tell that to the residents of the South Commons who live just down the street from the Prairie Aveneue district.
“Some police stations do deserve to be shut down,” local resident Denise Carter said. But she doesn’t think the Prairie District station is one of them. “I don’t think so. I think it’s very convenient for the seniors in this area.”
Another local resident, Johnny Raymond said, “We haven’t had any problems since I’ve been here” and he believes it’s because of the Prairie District station. “That’s what I believe … they’re (officers are) constantly going by.”
In other words, they want the city to save money somewhere else. But, according to the mayor, it’s not a matter of saving money.
“Whatever I do, and as we analyze it with Garry McCarthy and (First Deputy Supt.) Al Wysinger, it’s not a budgetary question, it’s a crime-fighting strategy,” Emanuel said.
McCarthy had opened the door to the discussion last week.
“My goal … this is about creating efficiency in the agency,” McCarthy said last week.
But head of the union representing Chicago police officers wasn’t so sure that closing police districts would do that.
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Shields said he doesn’t think all the administrative officers would go back to the streets.
“Because the current districts are very short manpower within the administrative positions,” he said.
He said he doesn’t believe two neighboring districts could be combined into one.
“They could be they’re already short that amount of staff on the other districts,” he said.
The mayor said he believes aldermen would support closing district stations in their wards on that basis.
“I’ve never heard anybody say – not a single alderman, not a single community leader – say to me we need a bigger bureaucracy. I’ve heard about, ‘I need more beat officers, I need more people policing my community.”
But some aldermen were expressing doubt about the idea.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) told WBBM Newsradio she could see problems for her ward, specifically if either the 5th or 22nd districts are closed, shifting a heavy work load to the other. However, she’s willing to hear arguments from the superintendent.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody Reports
“If you can eliminate a district … and it’s going to be beneficial to the residents that I represent, then I would have to say that I would see what he would do with it,” Austin said.
But she expressed doubt about merging two districts into one.
“I sit in the center of 5 and 22, so if you’re going to eliminate one of them, that’s going to be overbearing on another,” Austin said. “If you eliminate 5, it’ll be overbearing on 22 and if you eliminate 22 it’ll be overbearing on 5. That’s when I said no, I’m not for that.”
But Austin also said she needs to hear a specific plan from McCarthy and Emanuel before she can decide how she stands.
Other aldermen also said they were willing to at least consider the concept.
“I haven’t seen all the details on it, but … it’s something we have to consider,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) said he liked the idea, adding that it doesn’t matter where police officers come from, only where they are deployed.
Emanuel emphasized that his overriding philosophy is that beat patrols are the best way to fight crime.
But the mayor would not say if station closings are in his budget plan for next year, which he must deliver to the City Council next month.
It would be a politically risky move. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley set off a firestorm almost 20 years ago with a proposal to shutter stations, igniting community protests.
The possibility of closing districts is not a done deal, but in the words of a highly placed source, it is a distinct possibility.