Officer Exodus: 1,000+ Chicago cops left the job last year


CHICAGO — Evelyn O’Connor was on her lunchbreak in early January walking just west of the Magnificent Mile when a stranger punched her in the face without explanation.  Witnesses immediately called 911. 

“We waited quite a while – over 20 minutes – and at that point I said ‘I just want to get home,’” O’Connor said.

Delayed response is just one impact of an exodus of Chicago police officers. 

Last August, the number of sworn officers plunged to 11,611, its lowest level in years. The department was down 1,742 officers from its peak four years earlier.

“What we really started to notice over the last few years is we didn’t have the manpower to man the beat cars,” said recently retired Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido. 

A deeper dive into the data by WGN Investigates found 35% of the officers who left the department last year resigned as opposed to retired.  

“Those officers aren’t just quitting and staying home,” Garrido said. “I know many of them.  They’re going to other law enforcement agencies.”  Garrido attributes to the increase in resignations to what he labels as a toxic work environment in which officers don’t feel supported by police leaders, the mayor or the county’s top prosecutor.  

Chicago police have expanded their recruitment efforts to try to fill their depleted ranks.  Nine-hundred-and-fifty new officers were hired last year but that’s still short of the 1,046 who left.  

It’s a really, really hard job,”  Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in response to reporters’ questions about the departures.  “We were way up in 2021 but we’re back down to normal now.”

But that’s not what the department’s own data says. Resignations and retirements have risen in each of the last five years. 

The mayor’s office did not respond to multiple requests to clarify her comments.

Former police lieutenant John Garrido points to a triple murder in December outside the Vera Lounge in Portage Park – a known trouble spot in the district Garrido used to supervise. He said supervisors used to assign a squad car to monitor the block at the bar’s closing time but stopped due to staffing shortages. 

“Would it have prevented those murders, that argument? I don’t know,” Garrido said.  “Maybe they come out and see a squad car there – maybe there’s no argument, maybe there’s no murders.  We’ll never know.  But that is one example of a lack of manpower and how it has a significant impact on policing.”

As for the woman who was assaulted off the Mag Mile in January and didn’t receive a prompt police response: Evelyn O’Connor’s brother convinced her to go to the police station later in the day and file a report. But it was too late for the man’s other victims. 

“He proceeded to assault another lady on the other side of the street, taking her belongings, throwing them to the ground and pushing her,” O’Connor said.  “As he continued walking farther, as he walks, you could hear screams going down the street and we were just waiting, waiting for a police office to come and help.”   

No one has been arrested and O’Connor’s brother said they’ve heard nothing from police since.

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