Lightfoot renews threat to remove police officers from Chicago Public Schools

The mayor responded to a blistering audit by Inspector General Joe Ferguson that accused the Chicago Police Department of continuing to operate in schools without oversight and training.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Chris Taliaferro have called for changes in the a program that puts police in schools.

Sun-Times file photos

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday renewed her threat to remove police officers from public schools on the heels of a blistering audit that accused the Chicago Police Department of continuing to operate the program without oversight and training.

Lightfoot’s transition report recommends “encouraging Chicago Public Schools to work with individual schools to define the mission, goal and scope” of school resource officers and tailor that role “to the needs of each school’s student body.”

But months after a confrontation between police officers and a student at Marshall High School, Lightfoot hinted again Thursday that the days of having Chicago police officers stationed inside Chicago Public Schools may end on her watch.

The mayor said she has asked Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and Schools CEO Janice Jackson to “take a fresh look at this and figure out what the right assets are that should be in schools.”

“Who should be in effect the first responders when there’s a confrontation that happens in the schools? I’ve pushed them to ask the question as to whether or not police officers are the right trained personnel to respond to these incidents,” the mayor said, noting that the controversy “should have been taken care of a long time ago.”

“We’re taking the time that’s necessary between now and the start of the new school year to devise a program that makes sense, both to protect our students and teachers in schools, but making sure that we’re responding with an appropriate amount of force.”

It’s key, she said, that the response comes from “people who are actually trained to deal [with] … elementary school kids or high school students.” That “may or may not be police officers,” the mayor said.

Chicago police, and school resource officers in particular, generally do not receive special training to work at schools or with youth.

“It’s not something that is normally the training of police officers. So, we’ve got to think about what that right model is and part of that thinking is looking at best practices from other cities,” she said.

The Chicago Teachers Union said Thursday that the district should “immediately divest in school policing — and instead invest in trauma supports and restorative justice.”

“We have made very clear contract demands on creating safe spaces within our school community that do not look like occupation,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

In a follow-up audit released to the Sun-Times on Wednesday, Inspector General Joe Ferguson and Joseph Lipari, his deputy for public safety, accused police of failing to address numerous systemic issues concerning the oversight and training of police officers assigned to public schools, issues he first raised eight months ago.

Ferguson noted that, a month after his initial report was released, roughly 20 aldermen demanded that the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety hold hearings on the issue.

It never happened under now-deposed Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th).

The new chairman is Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer. He’s promising to hold the hearings that Reboyras didn’t in July.

“It’s incumbent on us to get to the bottom of why these protective measures weren’t implemented by the Chicago Police Department and CPS,” Taliaferro said.

“We have spoken about having strong police and community relations and partnerships for the last couple years. ... Not following the inspector general’s recommendations to get the community involved is very detrimental to the growth of that partnership.”

Chicago police have hosted series of meetings with community stakeholders over the last couple of months to discuss the program. Ferguson and community groups criticized police for limiting who was invited to the meetings and not widely publicizing the one meeting that was open to the public.

As for Lightfoot’s renewed threat to remove Chicago police officers from public schools, Taliaferro said it’s a mistake.

“If you look throughout our country — whether it’s been on college campuses or high schools — there’s case after case of active shooters. To have officers on scene to help respond to those situations in a much quicker fashion would only serve to keep our students, teachers and administrators safe.

But Taliaferro said there’s an urgent need to spell out the responsibilities of school resources officers and train them to “stay out of routine disciplinary matters.”

“I don’t believe our police officers should become the disciplinarians at schools. That’s the school’s responsibility. But if criminal matters are being conducted on a school campus [or] if the administration cannot handle a situation and it has escalated, then our police officer being trained in de-escalation could get involved at that point,” he said.

CPS and CPD need to spell out those issues in writing — another thing Ferguson called for months ago along with better training.

“First and foremost, that needs to be put in black and white on paper to make sure they know their responsibilities. ... We should have had clear rules and regulations and training for our officers. If we’re not, we’re putting our officers in a bad position whereby they don’t know how to deal with certain situations,” Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro was asked whether the confrontation at Marshall High School — which has led to a federal lawsuit after the student was dragged down the stairs and shocked with a stun gun — could have been avoided with clear standards for school resources officers.

“It’s possible if there had been training. I don’t know whether those officers were or were not trained. But if they were not, shame on our superintendent for putting them in that position,” he said.

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson

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