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Aldermen push competing proposals to defund, re-fund Chicago Police Department

On one side, 11 aldermen are demanding that not a penny of the $333 million in discretionary federal stimulus money be spent on policing. But two aldermen from wards that are home to scores of cops have other ideas.

Demonstrators gathered outside City Hall in June to back a Board of Education measure that would have terminated a $33 million contract between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools.
Demonstrators gathered outside City Hall Tuesday to back a measure that would terminate a $33 million contract between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

With the police reform movement gaining steam, aldermen are pushing competing proposals to de-fund and re-fund the Chicago Police Department.

On the de-fund side are 11 aldermen, including all six members of the Socialist Caucus.

They sent a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday demanding a commitment — “in writing or via an amendment” — that not a penny of the $333 million in “discretionary” federal stimulus money earmarked for “ongoing direct COVID-19 response costs” be spent on policing.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), dean of the City Council’s Socialist Caucus, called the promise a “reasonable ask” and a “very low bar” for the mayor to clear in the furor that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of now-former Minneapolis police officers.

He noted CPD already receives $1.8 billion a year — 40 percent of the city’s corporate fund.

“If police are being sent to the lakefront to enforce the stay-at-home order or the closure of trails, those are things paid for by the corporate fund. The notion that we would reimburse the corporate fund when we could instead be using this discretionary COVID-19 relief money on things like rent relief is really onerous to myself and to tens of thousands of Chicagoans who, in the last several days, have been coming out and saying, ‘Divest from policing and invest more in the relief and services that we need in this moment,’” Ramirez-Rosa said.

The City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on Lightfoot’s spending plan for the entire $1.1 billion infusion of federal stimulus funds. Any two aldermen could postpone that vote for at least one meeting.

“That’s certainly always an option. But in the context of this Council, it’s the nuclear option. I don’t think we’re ready to get there just yet. I don’t think we have to go there,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

Kristen Cabanban, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, refused to comment on the demand from aldermen.

At a Budget Committee hearing last week, Budget Director Susie Park said CPD may have had COVID-related overtime that’s eligible for federal reimbursement.

The re-fund the police movement is being led by a pair of aldermen whose Far Southwest and Northwest Side wards are home to scores of Chicago Police officers.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) plans to introduce an ordinance requiring that the CPD budget be “no less than” it was in 2020. It could be reduced below that threshold, but “only if authorized by a binding referendum” approved by Chicago voters.

“Every town hall meeting I host — every time I’m at a senior citizen event — I hear, ‘I don’t see the police on my block. I want more police.’ I don’t feel that the City Council should dictate or be allowed to determine whether communities have a police presence or not. This should be decided by the voters. The people we represent,” O’Shea said.

“Less police officers mean the potential for a spike in crime, which could then spread, particularly in communities where we already see high crime. We would see crime spiral out of control.”

O’Shea acknowledged the movement to de-fund police appears to be gaining steam nationally. With New York and Los Angeles already on board, Chicago is the largest major city yet to jump on that political bandwagon.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) has served Chicago as both a police officer and a firefighter.

He plans to introduce a resolution that would, essentially, call the bluff of those demanding to defund CPD.

It calls for a one-year pilot program allowing each alderman to “forego all or a portion [no less than 50 percent] of CPD personnel, services and resources allocated to their ward.”

Those resources would be “evenly distributed across all non-participating wards.” A report produced after the pilot would detail the impact on violent crime.

“I’m basically saying, if this is what you really believe — if this is what your 55,000 residents really want — then step up and go ahead and do it. Because I don’t believe that’s what a majority of their ward wants,” Napolitano said.

“If you think it’s such a good idea, your name should be right on that list first saying, ‘Take `em out. Take 50 percent or take `em all out. I’ll go without it.’ And guess what? I’ll take ‘em.”

Napolitano said Chicago is in “absolutely no position to be removing any resources from the police department” when over 25,000 people shot have been shot here since 2012.

He pointed to what happened the weekend of May 30-31, when demonstrations triggered by the death of George Floyd devolved into looting and mayhem, starting downtown, then spreading to South and West Side neighborhoods.

“We had 85 people shot and 25 killed because we took resources out of the entire city and centralized them in one location so the rest of the city was vulnerable,” he said.

“That’s what happens in these situations.”