Illinois proposes state police hiring in effort to curb violence

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois’ governor on Wednesday proposed boosting the shrinking ranks of the Illinois State Police in an effort to quell a steady increase in gun violence spilling over from Chicago’s neighborhoods onto the city’s expressways.

Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget would add a projected 170 troopers through two cadet classes, one this year and another during the 2019 fiscal year. Seventy of these troopers would be sent to the Chicago area.

“Those officers will allow us to send more patrols to the Chicago area, to the expressways to counter the violence that has spilled over onto the highways there,” the Republican governor told lawmakers in his Springfield budget address.

The number of Illinois State Police troopers has declined significantly since 2008 when there were 2,105 sworn officers, according to state police data. That number dropped by more than 400 troopers to 1,671 as of last year. Rauner took office in 2015.

Feuding between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature has kept Illinois without a full operating budget since July 2015, which has meant no cadet hires for the state police in 2015 and 2016. A six-month fiscal 2017 budget expired on Dec. 31.

At the same time, the number of shootings on Chicago-area expressways has consistently increased, with law enforcement placing the blame on increased gang activity.

There were just nine Chicago-area expressway shootings in 2011 and 2012. Shooting incidents jumped to 19 in 2014 from 16 in 2013. The number nearly doubled to 37 in 2015 and rose again to 47 in 2016. Three of last year’s shootings were fatal.

There have been two confirmed shootings on the expressways so far this year and six others that are unconfirmed, Illinois State Police spokesman Jason Bradley said by email.

The violence in 2016 came as part of a broader surge in violence across Chicago, the nation’s third most populous city.

With the additions to police numbers, there will be an increase in overall state police headcount of about 140 to an estimated 2,651 for the 2018 fiscal year from an estimated 2,511 for fiscal 2017.

The cost of the two classes for the 2018 fiscal year will be $10.5 million, the proposed budget said. The annualized cost of the new officers, including salaries and benefits, will be $20 million.

Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney