County Board passes resolution to ‘redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services’

Commissioner Brandon Johnson, D-Chicago, who sponsored the measure, said, “We’re spending almost $5 million a day policing alone, and that hasn’t solved any of our systemic problems.”

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Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson speaks during a news conference last week.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson speaks during a news conference last week.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to redirect money from arresting people and locking them up to housing, health care and job creation, in the midst of a tough budget season and a national conversation on race and policing.

The resolution, called Justice for Black Lives, says the county “should engage in efforts to redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services not administered by law enforcement that promote community health and safety equitably across the County, but especially in Black and Brown communities most impacted by violence and incarceration.”

Commissioner Brandon Johnson, D-Chicago, who sponsored the measure and introduced it at last month’s virtual meeting, said that he lives “in a community that reflects many of our hopes and dreams,” talking about his West Side district, which includes the Austin neighborhood.

“We’re spending almost $5 million a day policing alone, and that hasn’t solved any of our systemic problems,” Johnson said. “We have work to do, we are saying that there are very difficult decisions that we will have to make in the coming months.”

The resolution notes that despite a 50% decrease in the number of people incarcerated in the Cook County jail between 2013 and 2020, the budget for the county’s Corrections Department grew by 26% during that time. “Almost all” of the people detained at the jail are there awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay a money bond, the text of the resolution says.

Commissioner Frank Aguilar voted present on the item, saying he feels “defunding of the police department” could be “very dangerous for our communities.”

Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park, was the sole no vote, saying before the roll call that he’d be voting against the measure because he felt it focused just on defunding the police and not “individual” problems, such as housing and health care inequities, that the resolution seeks to address.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, left, in 2019; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, in 2019.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, left, in 2019; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times; Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“This resolution offends our very officers in Chicago, in Cook County, in our suburbs and in our state, it’s offensive to them, it’s offensive for their families,” Morrison said. “So if we’re going to be serious, let’s put together serious resolutions that address, and attack individual items that do need to be fixed.”

It’s not yet clear what the resolution could mean for Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, though he as well as others in the county, are being asked to cut their budgets because of the pandemic’s effect on the county’s usual revenue sources.

Last month, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told the Chicago Sun-Times “we have to dramatically reduce the amount we spend on law enforcement.” She tempered that by adding: “I think it doesn’t make sense to think that you can have no police. … The police can’t be an agent for oppression and enforcers of racial inequality. The police have to be public servants.”

At a news conference following the board meeting Thursday, Preckwinkle said the resolution is set against a “backdrop of national and local protests.”

“While these conversations are long overdue, they could not have happened during a more pressing moment for our nation,” Preckwinkle said. “But I’ve said throughout my career, I believe there’s clearly a need for police reform and for reducing and redirecting our investment in lawenforcement ... [the] resolution provides us a framework as we consider our priorities and how we can better serve our communities and honor Black lives.”

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