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Mayor reaffirms and strengthens city commitment to victims of domestic violence

With a not-so-veiled reference to the federal government shutdown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday reaffirmed and strengthened the city’s commitment to victims of domestic violence.

“We, as a city, are not going to let Washington’s dysfunction prevent us from doing what we need to do to protect all of the mothers and girlfriends,” Emanuel told a Thompson Center plaza rally held to kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Last fall, a clout-heavy joint that bills itself as “Chicago’s only full liquor & topless bar” agreed to pay the city $2.5 million in disputed back taxes and legal fees in exchange for the right to remain open.

For 19 years, City Hall had tried to shut down VIP’s A Gentlemen’s Club, 1531 N. Kingsbury, on grounds that the club’s dancers expose too much of the female anatomy. The $2.5 million was used to open a 40-bed shelter for victims of domestic violence, Chicago’s first in more than a decade.

On Tuesday, Emanuel touted the new shelter as evidence of his and the city’s commitment to battered women. But, he didn’t stop there.

He pledged city assistance to 3,000 women so they are their children are not “standing alone.” And he promised to dramatically improve the Chicago Police Department’s response to the 200,000 domestic violence calls that pour in every year.

“Of those 200,000 calls, approximately 40 of them become victims of homicides that, if we knew what we should have known—if we asked the right questions originally–we could have prevented one, hopefully 40,” the mayor said.

Emanuel acknowledged that the Police Department and the city’s Department of Family and Support Services too often provide a “balkanized” response to domestic violence calls. That’s why he’s ordered both departments to come up with a “single strategy” for training police officers and social workers.

Over the years, the Chicago Police Department has been accused of failing to take domestic violence complaints seriously, in part because some police officers are involved in abusive relationships themselves.

That apparent indifference was on display on the night in 2002 when Ronyale White was murdered by her estranged husband after her frantic calls to 911 went unanswered. The first two officers dispatched to the scene were the last to arrive at White’s home. The city subsequently agreed to a $4.25 million settlement with White’s children.

“We’re not going to have a Police Department going one way, a Department of [Family and Support Services] going another way and the courts going another way. We’re going to stand with the victims. They’re going to know that the person who perpetrated that crime has an entire city they’ve got to take on—not just one individual. We’re coming,” the mayor said.

“There’s no room in our city for individuals to think they can perpetrate a crime that nobody cares about. So while we have fiscal challenges, we have one set of values and bringing harm to a woman as if you are more powerful does not belong in our city. Take it somewhere else. These are our mothers. These are our sisters. This is who we are. We’re going to speak with one voice.”

By reinforcing the city’s commitment to victims of domestic violence, Emanuel is following in the footsteps of his political mentor and predecessor, former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

For decades, Daley championed domestic violence initiatives, branding the problem a “national plague.”

He led the fight to create a Domestic Violence Court as state’s attorney and created the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence. Daley also moved domestic violence to the top of the Police Department’s agenda with liaison officers in each district and increased training for the rank and file.

But, in 2008, advocates for battered women mobilized against a city plan they claimed would give the problem short-shrift.

It happened after Daley folded the city’s Office of Domestic Violence into an enlarged Human Services Department that controlled everything from social services, prisoner re-entry and veterans assistance programs to the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Daley forged ahead with the merger, arguing there was “considerable overlap” among social service programs. “This consolidation will help the city provide a more holistic, client-centered approach to the services we provide to our most vulnerable residents,” he said at the time.