Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she will “never yield” to the voices who want to defund the police because the Chicagoans who make up what Police Supt. David Brown calls the “silent majority” overwhelmingly support the police.
At a graduation ceremony for police recruits and newly-promoted officers at Navy Pier — the first since early in the pandemic — Lightfoot acknowledged it’s a “very tough time to be the police” because of rising homicides, shootings and carjackings, unprecedented scrutiny and an anti-police movement that swept the nation after the death of George Floyd.
But Lightfoot urged the nearly 200 graduates and newly promoted officers to block out the “loud saying a lot of loud things.”
“People want you — every day. I travel this city from neighborhood to neighborhood — all across the city, north and south east and west. And what I hear, what I know from polling that I’ve seen, is the loud voices that are calling for all sorts of things that are untethered from the reality that you face every single day — those are not the majority of voices in this city.
“Our residents are desperate for your help and your support. They want more police — not less police. We are not a city and will never be a city that bows to those arguing for de-funding. That’s not who we are. And that’s not what our residents want.”
Lightfoot told graduates that residents also want to “get to know you as people because they recognize” cops are the “line between them and safety ... [and] their ability to walk down the street every day and not worry about some danger or threat.”
Last year, however, Lightfoot balanced her pandemic-ravaged budget in part, by eliminating 614 police vacancies, literally shrinking the Chicago Police Department by attrition.
This year, she’s proposing a $189 million increase in police spending — to just under $1.9 billion — in part, by expanding officer wellness programs. But Budget Director Susie Park has said the “full driver” of that increase is the new police contract, with its 20% pay raise over eight years.
Meanwhile, the tidal wave of police retirements continues with 703 retirements already this year and 987 sworn vacancies.
Several Council members have demanded Lightfoot restore some positions.
Lightfoot and Park, however, have argued CPD will have enough trouble just filling vacancies at a time when declining interest in the policing profession is a national trend.
Still, many of the officers who graduated Wednesday said they were honored to take on the role.
Officer Sheila Mahon, 32, said she is excited to follow the legacy of her grandfather, who served as an officer for 31 years.
“It feels pretty good to walk in his footsteps,” she said. She said she is “looking for whatever the streets have to offer,” and that she chose the job because she enjoys helping communities.
Krystal Rivera, a single mother from Humboldt Park, said she always knew she wanted to be a police officer.
“For me, it’s a privilege,” she said. “I come from a family of serving. To help people in need, that’s my calling.”
The mayor’s message about the “silent majority” of Chicagoans who back the police was reinforced by Brown.
“Despite what you may read or hear — particularly on social media—the public by and large has your back. The silent majority of this country’s public has your back,” Brown told graduates. “The community is not your enemy. The community must be your partner.”
Brown also said officer wellness is “essential to a strong police department” — which is why he lobbied the mayor for an increase in the once-paltry number of counselors in the department.
“It is OK to say that I need to talk to a peer or professional. It is OK. And we are committed to providing that help that you might need,” the superintendent said.
The new officers are entering the force at a time when Lightfoot and police union president John Catanzara are engaged in a public battle around the mayor’s vaccine mandate for all city workers. Catanzara, who urged officers to resist the mandate, was banned from discussing the matter, and some city officers are opting to stay home without pay instead of complying with the mandate.
But Brown also said that all of the new cops who graduate Wednesday got the vaccine “on their own,” and that he’s had “encouraging interactions” with officers about the mandate.
According to Brown, 68% of Chicago police officers were vaccinated as of Wednesday morning, and he expects the number to climb to 80% by Monday. So far, the department has the worst rates of compliance with the mandate among all city workers.
“This vaccine mandate is about saving officers’ lives,” Brown said, noting that the COVID is the “number one killer of police officers in this country.”
“The words in the oath these officers just took answers any and all questions about the importance of the vaccine mandate.”
Rivera, who had only been minted as a new officer for mere minutes on Wednesday, was already defending the police union in its standoff with the city over the vaccine mandate.
Although she is vaccinated, she said she’s been “listening to veterans” about the need to “hold the line” and support cops who don’t want to get a shot.