The Chicago Police Education and Training Academy, 1300 W. Jackson, would be replaced with a $95 million facility in West Garfield Park under a plan backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Lightfoot calls Emanuel’s $95 million police academy plan ‘ill-conceived’

The Chicago Police Department “desperately needs” a new training academy, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build a $95 million complex in West Garfield Park is “ill-conceived,” Police Board President Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

During a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Lightfoot added her surprising voice to those of Chance the Rapper and college students who have made the project a symbol of Emanuel’s misplaced priorities.

The newly-reappointed Police Board president said it’s “undeniable” that the Police Department “desperately needs” a new training facility. The U.S. Justice Department report triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald found CPD’s training to be sorely lacking.

But she said: “From the perspective of many, the plan for the new police academy is flawed. I share that view. … In its current form, the plan is ill-conceived.”

Lightfoot then ticked off the reasons. It has more to do with the how and the where than the what.

“Putting this edifice to policing in this high-crime, impoverished neighborhood where relations between the police and the community are fraught, without a clear plan for community engagement, is a mistake,” Lightfoot said.

Questioning how a $37 million funding gap will be closed, she said: “The allocation of any funds for a police academy — and certainly one that will likely exceed $100 million when all is said and done — is viewed by many as further affirmation that needs of the people will never be prioritized over those of the police.”

Lightfoot argued that the “young people of color” who have organized around the Twitter hashtag #NoCopAcademy are “smart, organized and determined” — and not going away.

“For these young people, every dollar spent on policing is a dollar not spent on the needs of their communities,” she said.

Much of Lightfoot’s speech sounded like a prelude to a mayoral campaign.

She argued that the march toward police reform — culminating in a consent decree mandating federal court oversight — was “taking too long” and that the “shockingly large and unacceptable” parade of multi-million dollar settlements stemming from alleged police abuse “de-legitimizes” the police department.

Lightfoot also railed about a 17 percent homicide clearance rate in 2017 that has fueled an unacceptable, though declining, rate of violence on Chicago streets.

Emanuel has spent the last two years trying to rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after his handling of the McDonald shooting video.

The mayor hired Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp to serve as a $185,004-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer. Zopp has since moved on to World Business Chicago.

The mayor also proposed: incentive programs aimed at boosting minority contracting and employment; a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside the downtown area; and a Robin Hood plan to let downtown developers build bigger and taller projects so long as they share the wealth with impoverished neighborhoods.

“Whatever that plan is, they’re not feeling results of that,” Lightfoot said Monday. “They feel cheated.”

Lightfoot and Emanuel have been on a political collision course since the day he chose her to overhaul a Police Board with a history of reversing the superintendent’s recommendations to terminate accused officers.

She led the nationwide search for a replacement for fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy — only to have the mayor reject all three finalists and choose Eddie Johnson, who hadn’t even applied.

Lightfoot also co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability, whose scathing report forced Emanuel to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority.

Last year, she branded a memorandum drafted by Emanuel in hopes of avoiding federal court oversight of the Chicago Police Department a “fundamentally flawed” document that “sets the Police Department up for failure.”

Emanuel reappointed Lightfoot to another term as Police Board president, only because he was boxed in by the politics of police reform.

Asked Monday whether she was considering a 2019 race for mayor, Lightfoot said: “I’m focused right now on looking for ways in which I can use my voice and my knowledge and expertise to advocate. I’ll leave the politics to the rest of you.”

Emanuel’s spokesman Matt McGrath noted that local Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and her West Side colleagues “have supported this project every step of the way because they agree it will improve community relations, spur economic development and provide better training.”

McGrath argued that it is a “false choice” to suggest Chicago must invest in either the crime fight and police reform or our young people.

“We must do both, and we will do both as we continue to expand youth mentoring, after school programming, summer jobs, and educational opportunities from STEM to IB and beyond,” McGrath wrote in an email.

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