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Emanuel to build $95M police and fire training academy

Police Academy graduation

A new report from the city's inspector general says millions of dollars is being wasted on police overtime. | File photo

Chicago’s cramped and antiquated police and fire academies will be replaced by a new $95 million “public safety training” campus in West Garfield Park, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The new shared training academy — with two buildings and outdoor training space — will have the capacity to provide training the U.S. Justice Department found so sorely lacking in the Chicago Police Department.

The new campus will be built on 30.4 acres of vacant, privately owned land at 4301 W. Chicago. That will provide a double benefit for a West Side neighborhood plagued by gang violence that local Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) has long complained was getting short-shrift.

“The thousands of first responders reporting for training every day will not only drive economic development, but also add a big public safety presence,” Mitts was quoted as saying in a press release.

The new campus will replace a 41-year-old police academy at 1300 W. Jackson, a 67-year-old fire academy at 1010 S. Clinton and a fire academy south at 1338 S. Clinton developed 52 years ago.

The main building will include classrooms, labs, simulators, conference rooms, an auditorium and administrative offices.

The second building will include a dive training pool, a shooting range and space for “active scenario training.” The outdoor portion of the campus will feature a driving course, a skid pad and space for “hands-on practice in real-world situations.”

The Police Training Academy at 1300 W. Jackson.

The Police Training Academy at 1300 W. Jackson. | Sun-Times file photo

Construction is expected to begin in 2018 and take 24 to 36 months. The cost, including land acquisition not yet completed, was pegged at $95 million.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s much-ballyhooed but slow-starting Infrastructure Trust will select a developer to design, build and bankroll the project. The mayor’s office refused to say how the project would be financed — only that the city would “identify funding as the project progresses.”

Emanuel first talked about the ambitious project during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times before his second inauguration.

Two years later, he’s finally ready to make the dream of a public safety campus a reality.

“Our first responders deserve the best training to take on the challenges they face every day and they deserve the best facility to learn and practice in,” Emanuel said in a statement.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the new campus will “let us reinvigorate how we train Chicago Police officers” and help prepare them for “any scenario they may face.”

“A well-trained and well-equipped officer will be a key step in improving our service to Chicagoans and make our city safer,” the superintendent said.

Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago noted that police officers, firefighters and paramedics “jointly respond to incidents every day” and should train together “so both departments know their roles . . . and are prepared to fulfill those roles without hesitation.”

Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago

Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago | Sun-Times file photo

The long-awaited project comes as the old police academy is bursting the seams as Emanuel seeks to deliver on his two-year promise to hire 970 additional officers and keep pace with attrition.

The old building has been converted into a factory for recruits, with training of veteran officers and candidates for promotion shifted to City Colleges and DeVry University.

Emanuel’s $60 million, first-ever promise requires the Chicago Police Department to fill 471 vacancies, keep pace with rising retirements and still hire enough police officers in 2017 to add 250 patrol officers, 37 sergeants, 50 lieutenants, 92 field-training officers and 100 detectives.

That ambitious hiring plan calls for classes of at least 100 recruits-apiece to enter the academy during eleven of the 12 months this year.

After a 13-month investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the Justice Department portrayed a biased Chicago Police Department stuck in the Stone Age — from training that relies on 35-year-old videos to outdated pursuit tactics that imperil suspects, officers and innocent bystanders.

It laid bare years of civil rights violations by officers accused of verbally abusing minorities, shooting at people who pose no threat and Tasering others simply because they refused to follow verbal commands.

In response, the Chicago Police Department is putting veteran officers through a 16-hour course in “force mitigation and de-escalation tactics” and certifying 30 percent of all sworn officers in crisis intervention training to serve people with mental health issues.

Next week, the Police Department will begin the monumental job of training every one of its officers in a new use of force policy.

Long before the Justice Department issued its scathing indictment, Emanuel argued that intense training holds the key to reducing police shootings and restoring shattered public trust.

“Police have to be trained appropriately in how to engage the residents of Chicago so that shooting is not your first option but the last,” Emanuel said then.

A proposed site plan for the Public Safety Center

A proposed site plan for the Public Safety Center