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Editorial: Add cops, not private police, on public streets

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The sight of private security officers patrolling certain lucky streets is yet another red flag that Chicago can’t move fast enough to hire hundreds of additional police officers.

The notion that a wealthier neighborhood might buy its way to greater safety while an impoverished neighborhood must continue to rely solely on an undermanned Chicago Police Department is offensive. A city’s duty is to protect every resident, rich or poor. Wealthier neighborhoods are perfectly within their rights to hire private security officers — more power to them — but let’s not ease the pressure on City Hall to beef up police protection all across town.

On Chicago’s Gold Coast, resident Donald Mudd, citing a continuing deterioration of neighborhood safety, hired a private security firm to patrol his block of North La Salle Street after a 27-year-old man was shot dead near Mudd’s home. In Lake View, the nonprofit Southport Community Alliance has hired private security to patrol 16 square blocks. Cubs president Theo Epstein and his wife are among those who have volunteered to help pay for it. Separately from Mudd, the nonprofit Gold Coast Neighbors pays for extra overnight security on summer weekends.


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Last month, Emanuel announced a plan to hire 970 more police officers over the next two years, adding to a current force of about 12,000 cops. As the new officers come on board, the challenge for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Murphy will be to deploy them in a manner that follows the numbers — crime stats — without bending to political pressure. Every alderman always wants more cops working his or her ward.

The more than 3,300 shootings in Chicago this year have become a national story, and it’s not even the whole story. On three straight days last week, police issued warnings to residents about rashes of armed robberies in four separate Chicago neighborhoods. Victims in those robberies were confronted at gunpoint, often in daylight or early evening.

Three years ago, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) floated a proposal to allow different parts of town to pay for extra Chicago cops — not private security officers with limited authority — to patrol their streets. That idea troubled us because it seemed to directly equate Chicago Police protection with the ability to pay. The more recent trend of neighborhoods contracting with private security firms seems more appropriate, but it still raises questions.

To whom are privately hired police answerable — their employers or the public? Will the hiring of private security in one neighborhood simply push trouble into the next neighborhood, where the residents can’t afford to hire private cops of their own?

Many private security officers are off-duty Chicago or suburban cops, but not all. That begs the question about how much authority private security personnel should have to enforce the law when walking our city streets.

Every Chicagoan deserves to feel protected. The better solution is a bigger and better Chicago Police Department.

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