Chicago mayoral candidate calls for ‘reserve’ of 1,000 retired LEOs, use of drones to track fleeing suspects
Sophia King also wants the police department’s work schedule compressed to address concerns officers do not have adequate time off
By Alice Yin
CHICAGO — Chicago mayoral candidate and Ald. Sophia King on Thursday unveiled a plan to reinvigorate the city’s police department by enticing retired officers to return, expanding surveillance technology and overhauling work schedules to allow for more time off.
King, who represents the 4th Ward, rolled out her public safety platform as Chicago officers continue to grapple with morale and retention issues since the start of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s term, which has coincided with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and multiple rounds of civil unrest. And though shootings and homicides have slightly decreased this year compared to this point in 2021, a record year for violence, they remain higher than 2019 levels.
Crime and policing remain a key issue on the campaign trail leading up to the 2023 mayoral election. King, who announced her candidacy in August, is part of a currently eight-candidate field that includes more conservative-leaning figures who want to water down accountability measures and “let police be police” but also progressives who call for defunding or reallocating portions of the Chicago police budget.
King, for her part, has sought middle ground by deriding the idea that police accountability and cracking down on crime can’t go together. Beyond that, she vowed to also boost anti-violence street outreach programming by $200 million.
“Our city’s in a crisis,” King said in an interview with the Tribune. “People are really afraid and have their heads on swivels. ... I’m optimistic that we can both reduce crime and get to some of the root causes so that we’re not back here in 10, 20 years.”
King said she hopes to address the staggering amount of police vacancies — 975 openings for patrol officers and 106 for detectives, as of the city’s figures at the end of August — by implementing a proposal from Ald. Matthew O’Shea, 19th, to attract recruits via a $10,000 down payment for any officer who is a first-time home buyer and a $5,000 signing bonus. She also called for a “reserve” of 1,000 retired Chicago police officers focusing on less dangerous duties such as festivals, case management and desk work to free up active personnel to tackle crime.
King also promised to add 200 detectives by promoting officers and hiring back retirees, citing the need to bolster lackluster clearance rates for shootings and homicides. Areas 1 and 2 — the South and Southwest sides — would see the most extra manpower.
Asked why a retiree would return to a police force after burnout and other workplace issues, King said she talks to former officers who work private security and want to return to their old job, but simply feel “fed up” with low morale.
In addition, King called for using technology such as drones to lessen police reliance on high-speed car chases, which have cost the city millions in lawsuits over pursuits gone awry. These drones, she argued, would track fleeing vehicles, help police units know when to converge on a suspect and deter drivers from escape.
King, also wants to see the police department’s work schedule to be compressed to address concerns that officers did not have adequate time off, contributing to mental health issues and burnout. Rather than keep the current workday, which is split into three 8-hour shifts, King would implement a staggered two-shift day so that officers could work 10 hours a day for four days and be more likely to have more days off in a row.
Other aspects of King’s plan include disbanding the citywide units that diverted beat cops from patrolling neighborhoods, expanding 911 response models that don’t involve police and installing an office of gun violence prevention that offers high-risk Chicagoans $600 a week to participate in intervention programs. Her proposal also said more surveillance cameras, whether operated by police or homes and businesses, are needed.
And, following in line with most other mayoral candidates, King said she would fire Lightfoot’s handpicked police superintendent, David Brown, and replace him with someone who has closer ties to Chicago. King, who aims to thwart Lightfoot’s election to a second term, noted how her ward stretches from downtown, where she sees flashing blue police lights “all the time,” to the South Side, where police response times are slower despite a heavier concentration of violence.
“That inequity is tangible, right? And it’s literally killing people,” King said. “That’s because the current administration puts what I would say is public relations over public safety. And that’s something that I’ll change.”