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Finance Committee urges quick-clotting combat gauze for cops

A Chicago Police officer was shot and wounded in the South Loop in July. A City Council committee on Friday pushed to expand the use of quick-clotting gauze that can help save officers' lives when they are wounded. | Sun-Times file photo

Quick-clotting gauze that soldiers use to stop bleeding when wounded in combat would be made available to 3,000 Chicago Police officers who have completed Law Enforcement Medical Rescue Training, under a measure advanced Friday by a City Council committee.

The Finance Committee not only approved the resolution championed by aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Patrick Daley Thompson (11th). They found the potential revenue to bankroll the $90-to-$120 kits: the civil asset forfeiture fund highlighted by the Chicago Reader as a Police Department slush fund.

“The department has made 4,700 individual purchases since 2009 totaling — are you listening — $36.8 million. And the value of these purchases range from just a few cents to $750,000. This money comes from the civil forfeiture fund,” Burke said of the fund seized from individuals.

“I’ve been here for 47 years. Gone through 47 budget hearings. And I can’t recall once that this has ever been disclosed to the City Council. It’s an off-the-books stream of income and it seems to me that there’s a ready source of funds that could be used to purchase this life-saving equipment.”

Budget Director Alex Holt said the Emanuel administration is in the process of “closing down unfettered access” to the civil asset forfeiture fund.

The goal is to make those expenditures “part of the annual budget process” and establish “controls over the way the money is spent,” Holt said.

“With this being brought to light even in a grand sense, that spending does need to be scrutinized. No disagreement from me at all. We will be bringing this before the City Council. We’re putting tighter controls on them to make sure it’s done in a way that’s transparent,” Holt said.

Pressed on whether aldermen would have line-item authority over fund spending, Holt said: “I’m not sure we’ll do it that way. That’s what we’re working through. What are the eligible costs? We may have commitments that need to be funded,” such as helicopter repairs.

No matter where the money comes from, aldermen say the first-aid kits with quick-clotting gauze are essential.

They were convinced by the testimony of Brian Berkowitz, an instructor from the Chicago Police Department’s education and training division.

“Although CFD and our EMS system is one of the best in the nation, they cannot enter an unsafe scene. But in law enforcement, we must operate in an unsafe scene all the time. If we are injured, the only person we can count on is ourselves. If we don’t have the tools, if we don’t have the proper training and the confidence to use it, we may just bleed out and die,” Berkowitz said.

With “arterial bleeding, we can bleed out and die in as little as two-to-four minutes,” he added. “We can lose consciousness in as little as 60 seconds. But, our average response time for an ambulance can be six minutes. In the last five years, we’ve had five officers shot in the line of duty where it took nine, ten, twelve, thirteen minutes and there were none available. This is not the fault of the Fire department. This is just reality on a daily basis.”

Also on Friday, Burke introduced an “order” directly to the Finance Committee he chairs that would prohibit Wells Fargo from doing business with the city for two years.

The order would be a small measure of local punishment for the burgeoning scandal surrounding the company’s decision to create more than two million bank and credit card accounts without customer authorization.

Earlier this week, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $24 million in settlements and fines stemming for the improper repossession of cars owned by military personnel.

Burke called the two-year ban a “sign of our shock and displeasure” with the ongoing scandal.

“We don’t need to do business” with a company like this, he said.

A vote on the order was deferred until next week. If approved, it would prohibit Wells Fargo from receiving city deposits, serving as an underwriter on city bond issues or trustee in any loan or redevelopment agreement. The bank would also be banned from brokering to buy investments on the city’s behalf or serving as a financial adviser.

The two-year ban is not an empty threat. Since 2005, Wells Fargo has received $19 million in fees from the city for a variety of financial services.