Lightfoot embraces idea of licensing police officers

“If I go get my nails done — which I don’t do, you can probably tell — but, if I did, the person who is handling my nails is licensed by the state,” the mayor said. “If I go get a haircut, the barber is licensed by the state.”

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The idea of licensing police officers is something “we absolutely must discuss and debate because it makes sense,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.

The idea of licensing police officers is something “we absolutely must discuss and debate because it makes sense,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday embraced the idea of licensing police officers as she strives to appease those clamoring for reform after George Floyd’s death, but without defunding the Chicago Police Department.

Five years ago, then-state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, tried to push a police reform package through the Illinois General Assembly that included licensing for police officers after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Last week, Raoul, now Illinois attorney general, took himself to task on WBEZ-FM (91.5) for backing off that effort amid opposition from law enforcement.

On Tuesday, Lightfoot was asked about the idea of licensing cops. The former Chicago Police Board president was all for the idea.

“If I go get my nails done — which I don’t do, you can probably tell — but, if I did, the person who is handling my nails is licensed by the state. If I go get a haircut, the barber is licensed by the state,” the mayor said.

“There’s a uniformity in the professionalism. And then, they have to recertify themselves on a regular basis. Why wouldn’t we have that for police officers? I think it’s an idea that we absolutely must discuss and debate because it makes sense.”

As for the burgeoning movement to defund the police department, Lightfoot said what’s really behind it is the desperate need to invest in “black and brown neighborhoods that haven’t seen any investment truly in decades.” That’s what her Invest South/West program is all about.

“What people are saying, I think, is in too many communities across our city — particularly in black and brown Chicago — what they see every day as the manifestation of government is the police. What they want to see is true investment. What they want to see is a government that responds to the health care disparities, the life expectancy disparities. The fact they can’t walk to the store and get a cup of coffee or a good bag of groceries. That they don’t feel like they’ve got a pipeline to good-paying jobs. I agree with that,” the mayor said.

“Public safety is about a heckuva lot more than just cops in a car [or] walking a beat. It is about building healthy, vibrant, safe neighborhoods. We have to get there exactly through investments that we’re talking about. And when that happens, you see a community reborn.”

Because of what happened with Laquan McDonald, Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones “and way too many others,” Chicago has been “on a path of reforming” its police department for five years, the mayor said.

“The consent decree has the potential, if we do it right, to be utterly transformative. But even beyond the consent decree, there are other things that we can and must do. A lot of it is an emphasis around training,” said the mayor, who wants to make Rahm Emanuel’s $95 million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park bigger, better and more expensive.

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The mayor was asked whether there is any money in the Chicago Police Department’s $1.8 billion budget she believes can be reallocated to social services.

“We’ve already actually reallocated a lot of the work that the police department had previously done. We don’t need them to be the first-responders on mental health crises. We’re transitioning them away from that. We don’t need them to be the people who are responding to every single social service need,” Lightfoot said.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara had a political warning for aldermen who dare to support defunding CPD.

“I would caution them to think before they start stepping into that arena because they’re up for re-election in three years. I’ve made a promise and we as a team made a promise that we were going to try to change the dynamic in City Hall. We’re gonna try with the help of other unions,” Catanzara told the Sun-Times.

“Any alderman who thinks they’re going to push a de-funding and making this city less safe and our members obviously less safe with less resources and manpower — they should be on notice that we are going to research and recruit aldermanic candidates to run against certain aldermen who want to be the loudest voices in support of this. So they will have a fight on their hands in three years.”


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