• Alex Nitkin
    SEP 22, 2021

    Lightfoot rolls out kitchen sink strategy to quell gun violence as critics pounce

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s budget proposal includes the addition of a new “full-time recruitment team” to swell the ranks of the Chicago Police Department, she said. [Colin Boyle/Block Club]

    Chicago’s sharp rise in violent crime this year has forced Mayor Lori Lightfoot into the center of a debate over whether the city should work to beef up the ranks of the Chicago Police Department or invest in alternative programs like mental health supports and antiviolence intervention.

    With the rollout of her $16.7 billion budget proposal, she gave her answer: both.

    Progressive aldermen and organizers from groups like United Working Families took a victory lap on Monday after learning that the mayor’s “Chicago Recovery Plan” calls to pack hundreds of millions of dollars into diversion programs, counseling and other non-police safety strategies, saying it showed they were “now setting the terms” of the budget debate. But they decried Lightfoot’s pitch to pad the police department’s budget with an additional $189 million, a more than 11 percent jump.

    The uptick in police funding does not represent an attempt to reverse the mayor’s move to cut more than 600 vacant employee slots as part of last year’s “pandemic budget” spending plan. It would hold even the department’s staffing level around 14,100 full-time positions, while pumping in millions in salary boosts guaranteed under the collective bargaining agreement approved for rank-and-file officers this month.

    Related: FOP contract on glide path to approval, but some key details remain unresolved

    Instead of adding new positions, the department will work to plug the 1,000-plus additional vacancies that have opened up since last year, as a surge of officers and supervisors have retired or called it quits, Lightfoot said in an interview with The Daily Line on Tuesday. The department is still trying to catch up on recruitment after it had to cancel new academy classes at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

    “Unfortunately, for this year, we didn’t have the size of the academy classes that we would have expected, in part because of COVID,” Lightfoot said. “So our goal is to make sure that we’re keeping pace with the estimated number of people who are moving through the academy.”

    She added that the department has “seen a little bit of an uptick” in retirements, mirroring a “challenge all over the country” and raising the stakes for the department to catch up on new academy classes.

    “We’ve got to get new recruits in,” the mayor said. “We’ve got to make sure we have new testing for supervisor positions and detectives, and that is all part of the plan for 2022.”

    Budget Director Susie Park told aldermen during a hearing last month that department leaders plan by the end of this year to run a new academy class every month to keep pace with attrition.

    Related: Finance officials defend use of $782M in ARP to cancel ‘very expensive’ scoop-and-toss

    Lightfoot also revealed Tuesday that her budget plan calls for a new “full-time recruitment team,” led by Deputy Chief Yolanda Talley, who will “go all over the country focusing on places where we want to recruit, particularly making sure we’re focused on bringing diversity to the recruitment pipeline.”

    “I think that has already shown a remarkable difference in the way that they’re approaching recruiting…so I feel very confident that we’re going to meet our mark,” she said. “The superintendent is monitoring this in real time, and if adjustments need to be made, they will be made.”

    The mayor did not mention the recruitment push and made no mention of police staffing her budget address on Monday — an absence that irked Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), a regular advocate for officers.

    “How many kids have been murdered this year on their front lawn? How many shootings have we had on our expressways?” O’Shea told reporters on Monday. “I want to hear more about what we’re going to do to get this violence under control.”

    The Southwest Side alderman also cast doubt on the department’s recruitment efforts, saying he does not “think we’re going to be able to hire more than a couple hundred” officers this year.

    “Who wants this job?” O’Shea said. “Who wants to serve in law enforcement in the city right now, or anywhere else in this country?”

    He added that he wants to hear more details of the $85 million “violence prevention” category included in Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Plan, part of more than “$400 million in investments across various initiatives” that the mayor said Monday would “enhance community safety.”

    The tally includes $45 million in new “community safety initiatives” like “violence intervention programming and supports for community groups,” plus another $20 million for “youth intervention programs” and $10 million for a “deflection and diversion program.”

    City leaders allocated about $6 million in Chicago’s 2019 budget for Metropolitan Family Services’ “Communities Partnering 4 Peace” violence interruption program, but the initiative later faced pushback from aldermen who said the program administrators were not coordinating closely enough with ward offices.


    Lightfoot’s budget plan also calls for $10 million of “first-of-its-kind, dedicated investment for victim supports,” as well as a $10 million prison re-entry workforce program and $25 million to support survivors of gender-based violence.

    The mayor on Monday also touted a plan to boost investment in mental health resources by about $52 million, saying that “deep, lasting community safety also depends on the mental health and wellbeing of our communities.” Her spending proposal includes a $20 million infusion into mental health clinics and mobile programs run by the Chicago Department of Public Health, as well as a $15 million allocation to expand 911 “alternate response models” like the mental health co-responder pilot program rolled out this year.

    Related: As city rolls out 'co-responder' program, alderman says community organizations deserve more credit

    Lightfoot’s plan includes many of the same line items as the Chicago Rescue Plan (O2021-2860), an ordinance pushed by 13 progressive aldermen to dedicate the city’s entire $1.9 billion federal allotment from the Chicago Rescue Plan to economic development and social services instead of policing.

    Related: Aldermen hit back at plan to delay spending federal aid until fall: ‘these needs do not allow us to wait’

    Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), chair of the City Council Democratic Socialist Caucus, said Lightfoot’s inclusion of those priorities in her budget plan makes it “pretty clear people in the administration have been copying this coalition’s homework.”

    “This coalition for months has been calling for certain investments to make sure the federal American Rescue Plan dollars the city is receiving are spent on the things that our communities need — things that are proven to address violence,” Ramirez-Rosa said during a Monday morning news conference. “I’m very happy that the mayor has been copying this coalition.”

    However, the mayor’s proposed funding levels for non-police antiviolence programs pale in comparison to those offered in the Chicago Rescue Plan, which called to plow $200 million into a non-police emergency response system mirroring Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez’s (33) proposed “Treatment Not Trauma” ordinance (O2020-5704) and reopening the city’s closed mental health clinics. The alternative plan would have also plugged $57 million for domestic violence prevention, $30 million for “youth unemployment assistance” and $60 million for “street intervention programs.”

    Lightfoot said Tuesday that her administration “engaged an enormous range of stakeholders” to craft her budget plan, but she called Ramirez-Rosa’s plagiarism accusation “nonsense.”

    “What we need to do is work together to fulfill the needs of our residents, and I’m willing to work with anybody that comes to the table in good faith with good ideas and concrete solutions,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t care who gets credit for it.”

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