Chicago isn't going to win its war on gangs if there aren't more uniformed officers on the streets.
That's the gist of an opinion released Tuesday by the Chicago Crime Commission, which called on city officials to increase the department's manpower by 1,400 officers.
"While we commend the efforts of the Chicago Police Department, the new federal strike force and other law enforcement agencies, the plain truth is that local law enforcement is simply understaffed and overwhelmed," said the non-profit organization's executive vice president, Art Bilek.
The department currently has about 12,000 sworn officers, but only about 7,500 of those are covering the roughly 234 square miles of the city. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised 1,000 new cops, but those retiring far outnumber those who hired.
"We're expecting around 550 by the end of the year. Year-to-date, there's been 127 officers hired," the president of Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police, Mike Shields, told NBC Chicago last week.
Still, police Supt. Garry McCarthy maintains that the number of officers has little impact on fighting crime.
"I can walk through the door with Mayor Emanuel and find 600 officers that are behind desk duty," said McCarthy. "It's what they're doing and where they are [that's important]."
Shields thinks that's hogwash.
"I think Superintendent McCarthy is the only person in the city of Chicago, other than the budget director, that actually believes that rhetoric, that we have enough officers," he said.
Chicago has had more than 300 homicides in 2012, and and while recent months show year-over-year downward trends, the Chicago Crime Commission cautioned that those statistics are too narrow a focus.
"The conversation must stop about whether the death and injured rate is up or down for the month or the year," said Bilek. "The truth remains that 20 to 30 dead and 100 wounded a month are intolerable figures. The time has come to take extraordinary measures to reduce these numbers. We're talking about saving human lives."
The mayor projects the cash-strapped city will face a nearly $370 million budget shortfall in 2013. To prioritize public safety, Ald. George Cardenas (12th) last week mentioned the possibility of asking city homeowners and businesses to pay as much as $5 per month to hire more police officers.
The Commission also recommended tougher penalties for armed gang members and prosecuting them under federal laws when applicable.