By Hal Dardick and Jeremy Gorner
1:13 AM EST, February 3, 2013
The Chicago Police Department hopes to free up the equivalent of 44 officers a day by no longer dispatching cops for certain crimes, like burglaries and car thefts in which the offender is no longer at the scene and no one is in immediate danger.
Police confirmed the change, which takes effect Sunday. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told aldermen last year he was considering a move in that direction.
The change is not related to plans by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and McCarthy to shift what they indicated was as many as 200 officers from administrative duties to beats so more officers can be assigned to teams that saturate crime hotspots, city spokesman Bill McCaffrey said.
The 911 dispatch changes and redeployment of officers come in the wake of the city’s most deadly January since 2002. A total of 42 people were murdered in Chicago last month, including 15-year-old band majorette Hadiya Pendleton, an innocent victim whose South Side slaying drew national attention.
Crimes that will no longer result in the dispatch of an officer to the crime scene include vehicle theft, theft, garage burglaries, criminal damage to property, the passing of bad checks, lewd or obscene phone calls, threatening phone calls that don’t pose an immediate danger and animal bites, McCaffrey said.
Officers will be dispatched if a suspect is still at the scene or is expected to return immediately, the victim is not considered safe or needs medical attention, an officer could make an immediate arrest or an officer is needed for an immediate investigation, McCaffrey added.
When no officer is sent to the crime scene, a report will be taken by phone by cops assigned to light duty. Last year, 74,000 reports were taken that way. The new rules are expected to more than double that number.
It’s hoped that the changes will free up the equivalent of 44 officers each day to respond to more serious crimes and work at crime prevention, McCaffrey said.
Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, said he thought the change will be good, “especially if it results in a quicker response time to more serious crimes when they are happening in real time.”
Brookins said he often hears from residents who complain that response is tardy or even non-existent when they call 911 to report drug sales, fights or burglaries in progress. He said he also hopes that it results in more officers on visible patrol, which he said serves as a deterrent to crime.
During budget hearings last year, McCarthy said dispatch changes needed to be made, saying officers in Chicago responded to half of 911 calls, compared to about 30 percent in most other jurisdictions.
“I’m not joking when I tell you that we’ve handled calls that say my children are fighting over the remote control,” McCarthy told aldermen. “My daughter does not want to go to school, my son does not want to eat his mashed potatoes.
“Those are the types of calls for service quite frankly where I don’t know why we would tie up a police officer when that officer can be on patrol doing something affirmative, preventing something from happening.”
Police officers contacted by the Tribune concur that not having to respond to every call could help cops on the street respond to more serious crimes. "It's almost like you increase your manpower when you reduce the number of calls," one police supervisor said.
But he gave an example of one potential drawback, in the case of a garage burglary, saying there could be a delay in the investigation if a detective doesn’t immediately canvass the area.
Still, said one rank-and-file officer, by not responding to all the less-serious crimes, cops on the street will be able to become more "proactive," instead of running around the district and bouncing from call to call.
"It's really a drain on resources to go to every nonsense call like the dog's barking or the music's too loud," the officer said.