Thursday Letters: County agency is an invaluable resource

SHARE Thursday Letters: County agency is an invaluable resource
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Michael Masters, then executive director of Cook County’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, in 2014 shows evacuation chairs that can be used to transport people down flights of stairs. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media

When I read your editorial “Cook County doesn’t need another police department,” I was shocked to see that it was about the county’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Your editorial implied that the department does nothing more than collect grant funds. Nothing could be further from the truth.

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Over the last five years, Cook County’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has proved to be an invaluable resource to my police department and the South Suburban Emergency Response Team (SWAT Team for Suburban Municipalities). The training and the assets they have provided to my personnel has transformed the way we work and has been a major component of our success.

The department has acquired and strategically prepositioned assets throughout the county to assist my agency and so many others during crisis incidents. They deploy equipment and personnel almost daily. I know their generators have powered assisted living facilities during outages. Their personnel have assisted with search and rescue operations. Their water pumps have kept flood waters from knocking out power to entire swaths of Cook County.

I have been proud to partner with the dedicated professionals who make up the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. They work daily to ensure the security of the residents and critical infrastructure that make up this county.

My police department and the South Suburban Emergency Response Team are better equipped and our personnel are better prepared to deal with any emergency situation because of their support. Our partnership will be even more enhanced when they become a law enforcement agency.

Demitrous Cook, police chief, Glenwood

Commendable decision

Sen. Mark Kirk should be commended for meeting with Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland [“Senate must be ‘rational,’ Kirk says before meeting with Garland,” March 29]. As the first of a small but growing group of Republican senators willing to actually sit down with Judge Garland, Sen. Kirk has an opportunity to play an important role in breaking through the shameful blockade, obstructing the process of filling the Supreme Court vacancy.

Sen. Kirk should speak out on the Senate floor and, privately, with the leadership of his party and his colleagues to urge them not only to meet with Judge Garland but to push for a prompt hearing and vote. It would be both irresponsible and unprecedented for the Senate to keep this vacancy open into 2017 – a move that could mean that the Supreme Court would go two terms without its full complement of justices. As gratifying as it is to see our senator do the right thing in meeting with Judge Garland, it would be a source of great pride if he were to take the next step and help lead the effort to rise above partisanship on this critical matter.

Donna Fishman, chair,

National Council of Jewish Women, Illinois State Policy Advocacy Network

Poor bear the sacrifice

So much is being sacrificed for the state budget impasse but overwhelmingly the sacrifice is being borne by the poor of Chicago. Being that a great proportion of the poor are African American these measures — cuts to funding of CPS, the immanent closing of Chicago State; it is hard not to see this intransigence as racist. If white suburban students on the secondary and collegiate levels were at risk, there would be immediate release of funding. When it comes to poor Chicago black children, no way.

Edward D. Juillard, Morgan Park

Sensible ordinance

In mid-March, the Chicago City Council took an important step towards ensuring that thousands more of Chicago’s children will live longer, healthier lives by passing another strong tobacco control ordinance. It amounts to the latest in a series of steps that Chicago has taken to protect our youth from the dangers of tobacco use.

We have known for a long time that the best way to prevent smoking from becoming a lifelong addiction is to stop the habit in our youth. If someone does not start smoking as a teenager, they are far less likely to ever pick it up as an adult. That is why the provisions in this new ordinance are so important. It raises the tobacco purchasing age to 21. It taxes products like cigars and chewing tobacco. It also bans coupons and discounts on tobacco products, ensuring that the financial disincentive to smoking stays in place for youth, who are the most price sensitive consumers.

The scientific research has never been clearer. Tobacco use remains the nation’s single leading cause of preventable death, claiming the lives of nearly half a million Americans each year. Smoking causes cancer, strokes, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other ailments.

It increases the risk of tuberculosis, immune system problems and eye diseases. And smokeless tobacco causes oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer while increasing the chances of dying from a stroke or heart-related illness. In addition, second-hand smoke is one of the greatest risk factors for sudden unexpected infant death syndrome.

As a pediatrician—and as the mother of two teenagers—I know adolescents’ brains are still developing. The Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the tobacco age to 21 could reduce tobacco-related deaths by 10 percent. That should inspire us even more to make protecting our youth the front line in our fight against the dangers of tobacco use.

Mayor Emanuel has long made reducing tobacco use by our youth an important priority for the City of Chicago. In 2013, the City began to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. We became the first big city to impose an e-cigarette tax, using the revenue to fund school-based health centers. We prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol, within 500 feet of schools. We banned smoking in all city parks and harbors. Today, eight hospitals and 14 universities across the city have followed our lead and become smoke-free.

This latest ordinance builds on these previous efforts. Revenue from the new taxes on tobacco products beyond cigarettes will be directed back to our youth with a universal high school orientation program for CPS students, just as it has in previous tobacco reforms. This follows a citywide vision program, which has provided nearly 70,000 pairs of eye glasses at no cost for students in need, made possible by tobacco taxes. Together, these investments will help ensure all of our children are prepared for success in the classroom.

We should all take pride in the progress that Chicago has made when it comes to reducing youth smoking. Our rates of youth smokers have declined more than 25 percent during the past decade. Yet we cannot mistake this progress to mean that our work is done. The tobacco industry is constantly adapting to the new regulatory environment and looking for new ways to hook young people on smoking. So we must remain vigilant and ensure that tobacco remains a public health priority. We must do everything in our power to stop this threat in its tracks—especially by helping youth, upon whom Chicago depends to create a safe and prosperous future.

I want to thank the countless community partners and residents who rallied behind this cause and to the majority of Aldermen who voted to put the health of our youth ahead of Big Tobacco’s profits. Together, we are saving lives and getting closer to finally having a tobacco-free generation for Chicago.

Julie Morita, health commissioner, City of Chicago

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