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Chicago PD detectives to receive new shift structure, more resources under pilot program

Objectives of the program include “removing distractions” and “providing a work schedule geared to the operational needs of the team”

Chicago Police Department

“We’re trying to change the infrastructure so that there’s more time between cases for our detectives,” CPD’s chief of detectives, Antoinette Ursitti, said.

Brian Cassella

By Sam Charles
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — One week on call, followed by five weeks to work cases. Ten-hour days and take-home cars. And perhaps most importantly, total ownership of an investigation from start to finish.

Starting next year, the Chicago Police Department will roll out a new pilot program for detectives, altering how and when investigators respond to murder scenes across the city in an effort to boost CPD’s clearance rate.

The new “homicide teams” were born out of the tentative contract agreement made public last week between the city and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the union that represents rank-and-file CPD officers and detectives.

“The objective of the pilot program is to enable each team to focus on solving homicide cases by removing distractions, providing a work schedule geared to the operational needs of the team, and with additional resources,” the arbitrator overseeing negotiations, Edwin Benn, wrote in an opinion made public last week.

Currently, CPD homicide detectives work only day and afternoon shifts. The pilot program — already in use in Area 2 on the Far South Side — will usher in a third shift, staffed by detectives who volunteer to join the area’s homicide team.

Those detectives will be part of a new rotation, one that allows for investigators to quickly respond to homicide scenes, often during the overnight hours, when evidence is best preserved and witness memories are freshest.

“We’re trying to change the infrastructure so that there’s more time between cases for our detectives,” CPD’s chief of detectives, Antoinette Ursitti, said. “Obviously, that’s going to allow for more thorough and well-coordinated investigations.”

Along with a bump in clearance rates, Ursitti said the new teams are aimed at easing detectives’ caseloads.

“We also hope that this is something that supports detectives’ well-being,” the chief added. “We know in law enforcement all of these assignments are very demanding, and, at the same time, these particular investigations and what’s required of them require that we have a system in place that’s going to support (detectives).”

The pilot program is set to begin citywide Jan. 1, and some specifics, staffing among them, are still being hammered out.

One homicide detective, not authorized to speak about the plans, told the Tribune that roughly six teams of detectives will be assigned to each of the department’s five areas that cover the city.

Each team is expected to be on call for a week, and members of the team will respond to murders that occur in that detective area in that time, canvassing the scene for evidence and witnesses in the immediate aftermath of a killing. After the team’s on-call week is over, the team will then have five weeks to work the cases before they are back on call, the detective said.

“It’s my case to do well on or do poorly on,” the detective added. “I own it from the start because I was on scene.”

The change could give detectives more of a sense of ownership and reduce uncertainty for victim families wondering who is responsible for their case. That includes those affected by large-scale mass shootings that are by nature chaotic for authorities to address, such as one at Halloween last year in East Garfield Park, which has left families feeling as if police have forgotten them.

Since assuming leadership of CPD, Superintendent Larry Snelling has pledged to keep the families of murder victims in the loop as those cases are investigated. During CPD’s budget hearing last week, Snelling also told aldermen that Ursitti had expanded the department’s family liaison program, which works with relatives of crime victims.

“What we plan to do is make sure that all of our detectives get the training they need to now bring more comfort to the families, follow up on investigations, whether they have a breakthrough in the case or not, just to keep those families abreast of what’s going on,” Snelling told the City Council.

In addition to take-home cars and longer shifts while on call, detectives who sign up for the homicide teams will “have priority for receiving specialized and advanced training focused on investigations and new techniques,” Benn wrote. Beyond that, homicide teams detectives will receive extra comp time for on-call hours that fall on their scheduled days off. Overtime will be available for on-call detectives, too.

The homicide teams may not be a permanent solution, though. The tentative FOP contract provides that the program could be ended after a year.

“At the conclusion of the one-year period the Department may, within its sole discretion, elect to terminate the pilot program,” Benn wrote. “Upon request, the Department shall promptly meet with the Lodge to discuss the rationale for its decision. If the Department elects to continue the pilot program, it may do so. If the Lodge objects to the continuation of the pilot program, it may submit the dispute to expedited arbitration..”

There are currently 1,200 or so detectives in the Police Department, about 10% of the department’s workforce. CPD’s homicide clearance rate has been scrutinized in recent years, and throughout the mayoral campaign, Brandon Johnson pledged to grow the bureau of detectives in an effort to solve more violent crime incidents. The homicide teams will be staffed by existing CPD detectives.

“The clearance rate in the city of Chicago is absolutely abysmal, especially when it comes to Black and brown communities,” Johnson said in March.

Through Oct. 22, CPD detectives have opened 502 murder investigations this year, an 11% decrease from 2022. Ursitti told aldermen last week that “our clearance rate percentage is the highest that it’s been since 2014,” and a CPD spokesperson said the clearance rate stood at 49.8% as of Oct. 26.

Department records previously obtained by the Tribune show that between Jan. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2022, CPD opened investigations into 6,718 homicides. Investigators “cleared” 2,956 killings in that 11-year time frame — a rate of 44%.

A “cleared” homicide case is categorized in one of three ways:

  • Criminal charges are filed against a suspect, and CPD will still consider the case cleared regardless of how it’s adjudicated in court, even if the charges are later dropped or a suspect is acquitted at trial.
  • Prosecutors decline to bring charges after evaluating evidence presented by detectives, and CPD will still consider the case cleared.
  • The suspect is deceased. A “death of offender” clearance is recorded when detectives believe the person responsible for a homicide is no longer living.

Police in New York City say their homicide clearance rate was 78% last year, when 433 killings were recorded in the country’s largest city, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, 382 homicides occurred in Los Angeles in 2022, when the LAPD reported a clearance rate of 76%.

Not all CPD detectives are tasked with investigating homicides. Some are responsible for nonfatal shootings, robberies and burglaries. Other detectives investigate arsons, and CPD’s cold-case detectives focus solely on years-old killings.

Staffing levels in the five detective areas vary, ranging from 201 detectives assigned to Area 5 on the Northwest Side to 314 detectives assigned to Area 1 on the South Side, according to data from the city’s Office of Inspector General.

The proposed union contract that would create the homicide teams still requires approval from the City Council, and the president of the FOP, John Catanzara, predicted a legal fight over Mayor Johnson’s stated plan to split the tentative deal into two votes before the city’s 50 City Council members.

If approved, the contract also would provide a roughly 20% pay raise over four years for more than 10,000 active CPD officers.

The agreement would also allow officers accused of serious misconduct to have their disciplinary cases heard and decided by a third-party arbitrator instead of the Chicago Police Board.

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