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Preckwinkle would halt construction of police academy, dismantle gang database

Toni Preckwinkle

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she’ll halt plans to build a new police academy, dismantle the city’s contentious gang database and create an office of criminal justice as part of her plan to create a safer Chicago if elected.

The plan to freeze the proposed construction of a new $95 million police and fire academy “until further review” would allow the department to focus on overhauling police training because “our highest priority is curriculum and content, not buildings and amenities.”

Preckwinkle commended the activists who protested against the proposal for a new academy.

“When I was first elected as president of the county, we put a hold on our capital projects to look at how they relate to our priorities. We need to look at this,” Preckwinkle said. “We need to improve training, but the question is do we need a new facility to do that.”

That’s one of the key points of her plan, called “Building a Safer Chicago.” It focuses on creating a more accountable and effective Police Department by rebuilding trust and bolstering civilian oversight.

Modeled after a New York office with the same name, a proposed Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice would oversee task forces comprising city, state and federal law enforcement officers, as well as community leaders and subject experts, who will be tasked with coming up with solutions to the city’s public-safety issues. Those issues include gun violence, juvenile justice and neighborhood stabilization.

Preckwinkle says her plan to end the gang database is because it’s largely comprised of black and brown people though there’s “no criteria for how to get on it and many don’t know if they’re on it and there’s no way to get off of it.”

“It’s part of the culpability of the Police Department,” Preckwinkle said. “People don’t know how they got there and it’s used to damage their lives. That’s a real challenge to police-community relations.”

The board president, and Hyde Park Democrat, would also support the adoption of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability’s proposal for a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability.

That would mean a seven-member commission composed of people elected by the public would have the authority to appoint the Chicago Police Board, the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and recommend candidates for superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, Preckwinkle’s plan says. She has already said current Superintendent Eddie Johnson would be out of a job if she succeeds Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Preckwinkle also says she’ll invest more in the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), advocating for more resources is also part of Preckwinkle’s plan to rebuild trust between the police and the community.

In terms of training for police officers, Preckwinkle said she’ll implement the Chicago police consent decree, which will mean an upgrade for the Chicago Police Department’s training materials.

At the state level, she said she’d advocate for stronger gun laws, namely State Bill 337 to require Illinois gun dealers to be licensed with state police.

“We have to have leadership in the department that actively works to root out [the code of silence in the Police Department],” Preckwinkle said. “If we look at the devastating stories of actions by Jon Burge, [detective Reynaldo] Guevara and Sergeant Ronald Watts, those folks were protected by their fellow officers. We have to create a police department where bad conduct isn’t tolerated.”

“I have been a champion of criminal justice reform from my aldermanic career to present,” Preckwinkle said. “My commitment to this stems from my aldermanic tenure to my role as County Board president work on criminal justice issues.”