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Chicago Police Department struggles as burnt-out cops quit, with some heading to suburbs

Chicago police department struggles as burnt out cops quit, with some heading to suburbs
Chicago police department struggles as burnt out cops quit, with some heading to suburbs 07:25

CHICAGO (CBS) - Amy Hurley wanted nothing more than to be a police officer growing up. 

She was the first member of her family to become a cop, joining the Chicago Police Department when she turned 25.

"This is what I wanted to do. I knew it from a very young age, and I loved it," she said.

Former Chicago police officer Amy Hurley left the department after repeatedly getting days off canceled. Tamott Wolverton/CBS Chicago

"I loved working in the community and being around people and helping and making a difference – as cliché as that sounds," she said, "but I really did. I enjoyed it."

Hurley even tattooed her star number on her arm ★19490★, and planned on retiring at 55 with 30 years of service. But things didn't go accordingly.  

Now 41, Hurley put in for early retirement and took a $65,000 pay cut to become a junior high teacher. She attributes her exit to stress and lack of time off brought on by the turbulent years of the pandemic and a series of department re-organizations that repeatedly moved cops to unfamiliar neighborhoods. 

"I gave up a full pension. I gave up a nice paycheck. I gave up insurance and pretty much almost everything that I loved once," she said. "I gave that up for something else."

Hurley is not alone. Since 2019, she is one of about 3,300 officers who retired, resigned, were fired – or lost their lives while wearing the badge – according to the CBS 2 Investigators analysis of data from the Chicago Department of Human Resources.

Since 2019, Chicago has hired about 1,600 officers – about half the amount of the departures.

Police Supt. David Brown touted recent hires to replenish ranks, but an analysis shows those efforts are facing an uphill battle to stanch the bleeding of personnel, which is outpacing the rate of new hires.

"Chicago Police Department's recruiting has really turned a corner in a positive way. At this point this year, we've recruited and hired more new Chicago police officers than we did in all of 2019," Brown said at a September 12 press conference

The police department says it's focusing efforts on recruiting applicants that reflect the city's diversity. 

"From visiting military bases, to job fairs, to more than a dozen historically black colleges and universities, we are meeting with potential applicants from within Chicago and across the country." the department said in a statement.

"Obviously, we're quite challenged with a backlog with vacancies of about 1,400. But we have these last several months made a significant stride in hiring Chicago police officers," Brown continued.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown gave an update on police hiring in September. Chicago Police Department via Facebook Live

Brown said he was aiming to have 700 officers hired by the end of September, but the department only hired 588 officers by the end of last month, according to a police statement.

Police departments across the country are dealing with the same issue as officers join other workers in the so-called "great resignation." But while some workers may be dissatisfied with their jobs and pay, policing faced a reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's murder, particularly in Chicago, which has grappled with decades of police scandals.

Officers such as Hurley cited exhaustion and lack of support as the reason for calling it quits, leading to a disillusionment of the job many considered their dream. 

"The hours, you know, were pretty typical. I worked a straight shift. But then that started to change," Hurley said. 

She said her hours changed drastically after George Floyd, with days off getting canceled regularly.

"It was like Groundhog Day," Hurley said. "You'd go to work, you'd be there 12-plus hours. You'd come home, you'd sleep, you'd eat, you'd do it again."

She said the schedule chaos made it difficult to have a work/life balance and have time with her wife and two sons.

Amy Hurley with her son Simon. Courtesy of Hurley family

"You're like a zombie," she said. "You're not even coherent. You're kind of just going through motions."

While officers like Hurley walked away en masse, many others didn't want to wait long enough to collect a pension. Since 2019, about 760 officers have resigned. More officers resigned in 2021 and so far in 2022 than any other year in two decades, according to city data. 

That's what one former Chicago officer did, calling it quits with less than 10 years on the force. 

The former officer asked to remain anonymous as he is seeking employment with suburban police departments, and went by John instead. CBS2 Investigators independently confirmed his employment – and commendations. 

"When I left the job, it was a heartbreak for me. I definitely cried. I felt like I lost part of my identity," he said.

John said after the summer of 2020, his life was upended by working several weeks in a row with canceled days off and attending court on his scheduled days off.

Canceled days off roil police life

In the aftermath of Floyd's murder, protests erupted in Chicago and other cities. Demonstrations downtown on May 30, 2020, were followed by civil unrest and looting in the heart of the city's tourist district in the Loop and on Michigan Avenue. 

The mayor and Brown ordered the bridges over the Chicago River to be raised, suspended public transit downtown, and implemented a citywide curfew. Gov. JB Pritzker mobilized hundreds of National Guard troops to assist police.

The following days, looting and violence spread around the city. Lightfoot said the 911 center received 65,000 calls in a 24-hour period – about 50,000 more than average.

The effect on police staffing was immediate, with officers working 12-hour shifts and no days off the following weeks. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the union representing Chicago officers, filed a motion in June of 2020, asking the city to bring in help so officers could rest.

"After 2020 until when I left in early 2021, days off were getting canceled literally every weekend," said John, the former officer.

"They would literally have no advanced warning whatsoever. You can imagine what that does to a family that you don't have time to see anyone, right?" he continued. "And what that does to plans. You can't plan accordingly. Everything's thrown out the window."

The resignations and retirements picked up pace in 2021, a year which saw a bitter fight between Lightfoot and the union over a Covid vaccine mandate. That year saw more than 1,000 officers exit Chicago's force – the most in almost 20 years.

When asked in May about officers working so many days in a row, Brown responded: "I don't know where you get the 11 days in a row, so let's just slow it down a little bit."

Lightfoot responded to questions about officer burnout at a June 22 press conference where she defended her administration's policy of automated speed cameras.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended her administration's handling of police scheduling at a press conference on June 22. City of Chicago, via Facebook Live

"I think the infamous head of the FOP has said as part of his campaign they're being worked like mules. That's just simply not correct," Lightfoot said. "We understand there's a lot of stress and strain on being a police officer, that part of that is inherent in the job."

FOP president John Catanzara countered Lightfoot's claim.

"Fact: cops are burnt out, they are not getting that needed time off, and they absolutely don't have enough support from this mayor or superintendent. Period," Catanzara told the Chicago Tribune.

The tension continued into August, when the Chicago Inspector General's Office issued a scathing report that rebuked the mayor's assertions. 

The report found about 1,000 officers worked 11 consecutive days or more between April and May of this year. The report did not examine officer hours before that time period.

Lightfoot and Brown would eventually do an about-face, and implement a policy that would ensure officers will have no more than one requested day off canceled a week, except during holidays.

"We know that we've got to make sure that there is a process by which officers have time off," Lightfoot said on August 29. "Tired, emotionally wrought officers is not good for them, not good for their families, and not good, frankly, for the community members that they're serving."

Meanwhile, officers like John had already started looking at police jobs in the suburbs. 

Suburban exodus

Since 2019, nearly 450 officers have gone to work in police departments in the suburbs, as well as university police departments, and positions within the office for the Cook County State's Attorney, according to an analysis of data from the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.

"Last year where we had about 45 applicants, the vast majority of those were from the city of Chicago," said interim Cicero Police Supt. Thomas Boyle. 

"We have hired approximately five applicants from the city of Chicago out of that pool," he said. "They're grateful to be able to plan their life and have days off. This is just my opinion as a supervisor in our department. I think it's critical to an officer's or any employee's well-being."

Officer Ella French (Credit: Chicago Police)

Boyle said that lateral hires occur when a police department hires an officer from another jurisdiction that has two years of full-time police experience and certification from Illinois or another state. This allows his department to skip the academy process.

In Cicero, when officers inquire about a lateral application, they will present their ID and badge. One notable applicant was Ella French, a Chicago Police officer who was killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop last year

She picked up an application just two days prior to her murder.

"We certainly would have loved to have had the opportunity to review her application…obviously that was not the case," Boyle said.

French was the only officer killed in the line of duty last year, and one of 82 who died since 2019.

Inflection point for CPD

The city has a ways to go to replenish its ranks. 

Lightfoot unveiled her 2023 budget last week, which is her last budget before running for re-election.

She budgeted for roughly 14,000 full-time positions in the police department, roughly the same amount as this year. Even so, the department is still short about 1,890 positions from the city's 2022 budget, which includes about 1,200 rank-and-file officer positions.

After years of calls from activists to reduce police funding and allocate money elsewhere, the proposed budget for next year increases the police budget by $100 million, to a total of about $1.94 billion.

Even with reduced headcount, Chicago still has one of the largest police forces in the country, more so when adjusted for population.

That has observers asking not only how big the department should be, but what they're fundamentally tasked with doing. 

"I want some stakeholder – the mayor, the police department, the police union – to do a staffing study," said Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for changes in justice policy with data. "We don't know if we need more than that number or less."

The police department did commission a police staffing study in 2017, which was done by Alexander Weiss, the former director of the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University.

The study, which the city paid $150,000 to conduct, said that the department should deploy officers to beats with the highest number of calls, according to the Sun-Times. 

The police department did not implement those recommendations, which would have moved officers out of districts with fewer calls.

Despite that outcome, another staffing study was done by the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, which also recommended additional resources to areas with high call volumes.

"We want people to wait as little as possible to get police services," Siska said. "I care what the data says."

Siska shares company with Chicago Inspector General Deborah Witzburg, whose office conducted the canceled days off report.

"The larger question of staffing analysis, how does the department determine who should be assigned where and how many members belong in each district on each watch?" Witzburg said. "It's easy for the department to say we're canceling days off, because it's Memorial Day weekend, and we need more people working. More than what? How many is the right number? And how do we know that?"

The answer to that question is currently being debated on a national stage in an election year, as Republican candidates use Chicago as an example of as a city plagued with violent crimes – even though crime has increased in many other cities during the pandemic.

Gov. JB Pritzker has come under fire from his Republican opponent Darren Bailey as being soft on crime and not supporting police officers. 

Former CPD officer "John" wears a bracelet to remember fallen officer Ella French. Tamott Wolverton/CBS Chicago

Lightfoot has faced repeated criticism from opponents like Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and former Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas, who say she's not doing enough for the city's cops.

While politicians fight it out through their campaigns, the Chicago Police Department continues to ramp up their hiring efforts, even creating a unit dedicated solely to retention and recruitment. 

But for former officers like John, the suburban police districts may offer them an opportunity to continue policing while maintaining a work/life balance. 

As for Amy Hurley, who now teaches social studies at Christ the King, a Catholic grade school, the decision to walk away for good was needed.

"I will say when I walked out of headquarters, the day I turned in my badge and my shield and I felt like a ton of bricks was lifted from my shoulders," Hurley said. "I knew from that minute that I had made the right decision."

Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:53PM to include response from Police Department.

Call out for officers

This is the first in a series of reports on Blue Burnout. If you have tips about the Chicago Police Department please provide them in the form below.

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