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Chicago 911 dispatcher raises concerns about CPD staffing shortage

By Michelle Gallardo

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    CHICAGO (WLS) — A city dispatcher who was praised for the way he handled the deadly shooting of Officer Ella French is raising concerns about a staffing shortage in the Chicago Police Department.

Keith Thornton is a 911 Dispatcher with the City of Chicago. Back in August, it was his composure on the night officers Ella French and Carlos Yañez were shot that first brought him notoriety.

Now, Thornton is again in the spotlight following a nearly 30-minute Facebook Live video in which he singled out the city’s 16th Police District. He said on the night of December 23, 9 of the 14 police units assigned there were down.

“It’s outrageous and I’m not happy,” Thornton said. “The ones that are white are the ones that have beat cars. The ones that are scratched out, they’re down. So you have no police coming.”

Thornton pointed to the long line of squad cars parked outside the district Sunday afternoon as evidence of what he said is a severe lack of resources.

“When I’m getting text messages from officers telling me that they’re afraid for their safety because they’re working by themselves and then the beat next to them, to back them up, isn’t there because the cars are down, that’s a problem. That’s a safety concern,” he said.

So what is going on here? Area-wise, the 16th Police District is the city’s largest, encompassing everything north of Belmont and west of Cicero. Much like the rest of the police department, the district has lost a significant number of officers over the last few years as retirements continue to outpace new hires.

But while staffing is far from what department supporters would like to see, the current situation is described by some as a short-term, pandemic-related anomaly.

“I know there is a COVID outbreak out there,” 38th Ward Ald. Nicholas Sposato said. “I know they’re down about 70 between COVID, duty layoffs, non-duty layoffs and no-pay status. So that’s above and beyond the officers we’ve lost in the last, I’m going to say two months. We’ve lost eight officers I would guess… We want more bodies over here. We want more officers…. I do not want to see one man cars out there. I know sometimes things happen, but it happens too often and it’s too regular of a basis.”

Sposato said he, along with the seven other aldermen who represent the 16th District, have a meeting with Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown on the subject this Tuesday, where he hopes they will be able to secure a commitment for additional support.

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