Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been ordered to take “immediate corrective action” to remedy serious safety violations endangering police trainees at a shuttered North Side school used as an auxiliary training site.
The demand from Illinois Occupational Safety and Health Administration Director Ben Noven stems from a July 12 complaint filed by Fernando Flores, a Chicago police officer assigned to O’Hare International Airport. Flores also serves as a Fraternal Order of Police trustee.
Flores alleged that the building at 1450 N. Larrabee St. — formerly the Near North Career Metropolitan High School — has inadequate ventilation, temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, roach and rodent infestations and high levels of lead and asbestos.
The following day, Noven fired off a letter to Emanuel that was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
It gives the city until “no later than” Friday, July 27, to conduct an investigation of Flores’ allegations that the “entire building is in a state of disrepair and affected by these hazards.”
Noven made it clear that the state has “not determined whether the hazards, as alleged, exist at your workplace” and does not intend to conduct an inspection “at this time.”
But since Flores has alleged that those “violations and/or hazards” exist, the state is demanding that Emanuel “immediately investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary corrections or modifications.”
Specifically, Noven demanded that the city provide Illinois OSHA with information on whether the shuttered school:
• Complies with the city building code on ventilation, which requires a minimum of 0.6 cubic-feet-per-minute-per-square-foot be supplied to an office space and 0.3 cubic-feet-per-minute-per-square-foot be exhausted from an office space.
• Has been screened for the presence of lead and asbestos.
• Abides by the city’s pest control policy with a copy of the most recent pest control inspection and treatment report to prove it.
“It is our goal to assure that hazards are promptly identified and eliminated. Please take immediate corrective action where needed,” Noven wrote.
“If we do not receive a response from you by July 27 indicating that appropriate action has been taken or that no hazard exists and why, an Illinois OSHA inspection may be conducted. An inspection may include a review of the following: injury and illness records; hazard communication; personal protective equipment; emergency action or response; bloodborne pathogens, confined space entry; lockout and related safety and health issues.”
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi issued an emailed response to the the state ultimatum at a shuttered school owned by the CHA that occupies 11 acres near the former site of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex.
The shuttered school is used for tactical training, including SWAT team operations that include “active-shooter scenarios, room breaches and flash-bang deployments.” The building is scheduled to be demolished later by the end of this year.”
“The Chicago Police Department takes all complaints seriously, especially when the health and safety of our personnel is affected. Our facilities team is already working with City partners to address the allegations,” he wrote.
Guglielmi did not respond to a report that, after Flores filed his complaint, four officers collapsed from the heat, prompting the Police Department to close the ancillary training facility for two days.
The shuttered school would no longer be needed as an ancillary training facility once Emanuel’s controversial $95 million state-of-the-art police and fire training facility is built in West Garfield Park.
That project has drawn opposition from Chance the Rapper and young people across the city and the nation who have rallied against what they call Emanuel’s misplaced priorities; the plan has been attacked on social media by activists using the #NoCopAcademy hashtag.
They have argued that bolstering mental health services and school funding should be higher priorities than the police training that was a primary focus of the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.
That Justice Department investigation was triggered by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.
Mayoral challengers Lori Lightfoot and Garry McCarthy oppose construction of a new police academy, but for different reasons.
Lightfoot has argued that the project is needed, but that it’s a mistake to put it in a “high-crime, impoverished neighborhood where relations between the police and the community are fraught without a clear plan for community engagement.”
Fired Chicago Police Superintendent-turned-mayoral challenger Garry McCarthy wants to cancel the project altogether in favor of restoring mental health clinics closed by the boss who fired him.
“This police academy is a shiny object that Rahm Emanuel can point to and say, ‘I’m all about police reform.’ It’s for political purposes – not functional purposes,” McCarthy has said.