Mayor Brandon Johnson on Thursday appealed to the community for help keeping the peace as he faces his first summer holiday weekend and its potential for violence, but he is also relying on a controversial practice of canceling officers’ days off to get more police on the streets.
The new mayor spoke about Memorial Day weekend in positive terms, emphasizing its concerts and events. But like his predecessor, he also highlighted the community groups and the extra law enforcement efforts to keep people safe over the historically violent weekend.
“It’s going to take all of us, not just the police, not just city government, to ensure that our communities can live and thrive in peace and safety,” Johnson said at 63rd Street Beach, surrounded by department heads.
“However you decide to spend your holiday weekend in Chicago, your safety is my top priority,” he said.
Interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller said his department has a “comprehensive safety plan” for the weekend that includes putting more officers on public transit and in business areas, as well as conducting bag checks at beaches and Millennium Park.
But police resources will not be moved at the expense of neighborhoods, he said.
“We won’t neglect the neighborhoods just for downtown,” Waller said.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson stands behind interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller Thursday during a news conference at 63rd Street Beach, where officials discussed public safety plans and activities for Memorial Day weekend.| Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Sworn officers will have one day off canceled this weekend to beef up staffing, a practice that has been criticized as dangerous to the well-being of officers. Waller said it’s standard procedure for Memorial Day and other major holiday weekends.
“We take the wellness of our officers seriously. And I want them to know that I appreciate them and the city appreciates them,” Waller said.
Asked if officers will have more canceled days off this summer, Waller said: “It’s something that we do every year. And it’s not anything new. It’s something that we’ve done for years and years, canceling a day off just to make sure that we have the manpower that’s needed for all the festivals and different games we have this summer.”
Johnson said some officers have volunteered to work on their days off.
“There are police officers that have signed up to work, too,” Johnson said. “I want to be clear that there are a number of people who are raising their hand to participate in the overall better, stronger, safer vision that we have put forward.”
Those efforts will be in addition to the 30 state-funded “peacekeepers” wearing yellow vests this weekend to deescalate “hot spots” of violence and avoid a repeat of mid-April when a crowd of teens danced on cars in the Loop, leading to two people being shot and police making 15 arrests.
Several community group leaders spoke besides Johnson Thursday, including Tamar Manasseh, founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings, which has been peacefully occupying 75th and Stewart streets in Englewood for eight years. She praised Johnson for supporting her group.
“I am so encouraged by this mayor and this administration,” Manasseh said. “For once in all of the years that we’ve been occupying that corner, we’ve never had an administration that we could actually work with, an administration that actually kept their promises, especially not so quickly.”
Every year, mayors promise to increase officers on patrol, only to see their best efforts devolve into a bloodbath over the holiday weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer.
Interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller discusses public safety for the Memorial Day weekend during a Thursday news conference at 63rd Street Beach. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Last year’s Memorial Day weekend saw 51 people shot, nine of them fatally — the most violent holiday weekend in five years — despite increased police patrols and a focus on neighborhood programs.
Four years ago, in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first year in office, she said police would “flood the zone” with 1,200 additional officers for the holiday weekend. Lightfoot, in a show of interest in tackling violence, even rode along with a police squad car and responded to a shooting. After 72 hours, 41 people were shot, seven fatally — a more violent weekend than the year before.
That was the last time Lightfoot offered specifics about the extra deployment of officers for Memorial Day weekend.
But Johnson begins his term with a police department that has 1,700 fewer officers than when Lightfoot started. The department had about 2,000 vacant positions as of March.
Johnson has promised to confront the root causes of violence by pledging to make $1 billion worth of “investments in people.” Hours after his inauguration last week, he filled the new position of deputy mayor for community safety with Garien Gatewood, director of the Illinois Justice Project.
Johnson created that position to replace the deputy mayor for public safety, which became a revolving door under Lightfoot. The idea, Johnson’s staff said, was to do away with a role that was a liaison role between the mayor and CPD and to create a new role to focus on aspects of crime prevention beyond the police department.
During her term, Lightfoot also tried to address the underlying causes of violence. In her first year, Lightfoot introduced a comprehensive anti-violence program called “Our City, Our Safety” that aimed to flood the city’s 15 most violent neighborhoods with investment and resources. That initiative was tied to private and public investments in housing and development in her Invest South/West program.
Yellow-vested Peacekeepers, funded by the state, will patrol Chicago streets Memorial Day weekend
Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson names Fred Waller as interim police superintendent