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Lightfoot unveils plan to attack violence as public health crisis

Lori Lightfoot is shown in April 2016 as she revealed and discussed the findings of the Police Accountability Task Force. | Getty Images

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot has argued that Chicago’s never-ending cycle of gang violence has triggered a “public health crisis” that requires rebuilding impoverished neighborhoods and restoring shattered trust between citizens and police.

Now, the former Police Board president who co-chaired Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability is unveiling that “Marshall Plan” to give Chicago neighborhoods the level of safety they desperately need and deserve.

It starts by creating a “Mayor’s Office of Public Safety,” with a dedicated funding stream, to confront the “drivers of violence” and rebuild a “network of community-based public and private mental health and wellness assets” in neighborhoods held hostage to gangs, Lightfoot said.

The new office will ensure that public-safety resources are “equitably distributed throughout the city.” It also will oversee a public-safety board with authority over the Police Department, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Police Board.

“We have to have real resources in the mayor’s office to manage public-safety activities. We have two full-time people now. New York has 50. L.A. has about 30. We are setting ourselves up for failure because we don’t have enough resources focused on public safety,” Lightfoot said.

“It can’t just reside in the Police Department, the Fire Department and [the Office of Emergency Management and Communications]. We’ve got to have a team of people in the mayor’s office who are seeing this from a lot of different perspectives and making sure that all of the tools and levers of city government are working effectively.”

With illegal guns pouring into Chicago from Indiana and Wisconsin — and even from as far away as Texas and Mississippi — Lightfoot’s plan also includes creating a department within CPD to target gun traffickers and pressure the U.S. Attorney’s office to increase the “relatively small” number of prosecutions for “serious gun-related crimes like trafficking and selling guns.”

Two years ago, Lightfoot made the case for increased training and changes to both the police contract and to the way police supervisors are chosen to restore public trust in the Chicago Police Department, shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

After hearing from a “startling cross-section” of Chicagoans who view police officers as racist, Lightfoot also made the case for “some kind of racial reconciliation” that would allow Chicagoans who have felt harassed or disrespected by police to publicly air their grievances across the table from police brass.

That’s apparently why her public-safety plan includes both major elements.

To bridge the divide between citizens and police, she’s proposing a citywide peace and reconciliation process, community-level summits and even allowing community leaders to teach scenario-based classes to police recruits.

Following New York City’s lead, rookies would be required to spend two weeks meeting with community leaders before starting work in their assigned districts.

The Police Department would also: hire a chief diversity officer; eliminate clout promotions and redesign “sergeant selection criteria”; overhaul its gang database; make mental health professionals “co-responders” on calls requiring crisis intervention; and implement an early-intervention system to identify problem officers.

And Chicago Public Schools would be charged with developing a K-through-12 curriculum that teaches students how to resolve conflicts.

“The Laquan McDonald shooting was a tipping point. But what’s been happening in our city for decades — exacerbated by hyper-aggressive stop-and-frisk and people’s heightened awareness of police-involved shootings — rolls up into a trauma with people feeling like they’re mistreated as a result of their race,” Lightfoot said.

“We have to get at that issue and not ignore it. Race matters in policing.”

Even after all of that, Lightfoot argued that community trust will never be restored until Chicago raises its dismal homicide clearance rate.

To do that, she vows to move more detectives into districts, improve on-scene evidence collection and bolster the hours and capacity of the crime lab while investing $300,000 in a mobile crime lab.

“In 2017, the homicide clearance rate was 17 percent. If you were shot and lived, it was in the single-digits. That says to victims there’s no justice. And it says to the perpetrators of crime that you can commit crime with impunity,” she said.

“That’s a huge problem that also adds to de-legitimization of the police. People are not gonna talk to the police and put themselves at risk if they think it’s all gonna be for naught and the people they know are terrorizing neighborhoods are gonna be able to walk the streets with impunity.”