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Rahm Emanuel Pushes Police Budget Cuts Despite Campaign Pledge To Add Cops

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RAHM EMANUEL
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right) introduces Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy during a May 2011 press conference. | AP

CHICAGO -- Rahm Emanuel campaigned for Chicago mayor on a promise of putting 1,000 more police officers on the city's streets. Now, the man Emanuel picked to be the top cop for the nation's third-largest city says the mayor has told him to slash $190 million from his budget – something people both inside and outside the department say can't be done without layoffs.

It would also likely be the largest cut for any police department in the U.S. during the nation's fiscal crisis.

"I don't see how you're going to (avoid layoffs)," said Robert Weisskopf, the president of the Chicago police lieutenants union. "They've already laid off civilian employees, laid off everybody they can and now we're to the point where watch secretaries (sworn officers) are going out to buy office supplies."

Mayors and police chiefs routinely clash about budgets before compromises are reached. But the episode in which police Superintendent Garry McCarthy put a dollar figure on cuts – something Emanuel has not done – marks the first suggestion, at least publicly, that the mayor and the superintendent he plucked from Newark, N.J. may not be in complete agreement.

It's also the latest sign of the dire circumstances facing Emanuel as he tries to close the city's $635 million budget gap while trying to accomplish the ambitious agenda he laid out during his election campaign. The $190 million represents about one-sixth of the police force's $1.3 billion budget.

Emanuel has declined to confirm there is a particular dollar figure he wants McCarthy to reach, but in a statement, his spokeswoman made it clear the mayor is determined not to compromise public safety.

"The Superintendent has been asked to find savings anywhere he can without impacting our ability to follow through on our commitment to ensure our streets are safe," said spokeswoman Chris Mather.

As for Emanuel's pledge while he was running for mayor, Mather said, "We will fulfill our campaign promise to put 1,000 police officers on the beat and into our neighborhoods."

Similar budget negotiations in New York – in which Mayor Michael Bloomberg said hard times meant the police force would have to shrink – resulted in the city actually increasing the department's budget from $8.9 billion to $9.2 billion.

But some departments have had to make cuts. In Los Angeles, for example, the City Council slashed $100 million in the department's overtime pay and told the chief to find an additional $41 million to help the city balance its budget. And McCarthy himself was leading the department in Newark, N.J., when budget problems last year forced the city to lay off more than 160 officers.

But Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said he knows of no other major department in the United States that is contemplating anything close to $190 million.

"There's nothing on this scale," he said.

McCarthy told reporters that $93 million could be saved if the department, which now has about 13,500 budgeted sworn positions, does not fill about 1,400 vacancies. Mather said no decision has been made on whether the vacancies would go unfilled.

One alderman wondered what the effect would be if those jobs do disappear.

"All I know is we need more police officers on the street and eliminating vacancies doesn't get us to having more officers on the street," said Alderman Robert Fioretti.

McCarthy is looking for cuts even as the police force gears up for one of the most high profile assignments a department could possibly have: Providing security for leaders from around the world during next spring's G8 and NATO summits in the city.

Weisskopf said part of the preparation will be providing crowd control training for the officers.

"How do you train officers if you don't pay them to come in on their days off?" he asked, adding that the alternative is training them while on duty, which means taking them off the street.

Mike Shields, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, said reducing the number of officers would put more pressure on those who are left and increase overtime costs.

"You can't stop in the middle of a homicide investigation and say, `I'm sorry, victim's family. My shift is done,'" he said.

As for Emanuel's campaign promise, Shields noted that 500 of the 750 officers McCarthy has put on patrol since the spring were already working the street in special units – meaning there are just 250 more officers working the street now than before Emanuel took office.

"They were keeping Chicago safe in specialized units and now they are in a beat car," said Shields. "What is the real big difference?"

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Associated Press writers Samantha Gross in New York, Matt Moore in Philadelphia and Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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