Stacking Up Two Mayoral Candidates’ Approaches to Public Safety Policy

 /  Nov. 14, 2018, 3:44 p.m.

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In 2017, the Chicago Police Department solved only 17 percent of homicides committed that year, the lowest clearance rate for the department in at least fifty years.

“To victims [this statistic says] there’s no justice. And it says to the perpetrators of crime that you can commit crime with impunity,” said Lori Lightfoot, one of sixteen individuals running in the upcoming Chicago mayoral election.

After Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his surprise decision to not run for re-election in September, public safety has emerged as one of the election’s most pressing issues. Two leading candidates, Lightfoot and Paul Vallas, both hope to reduce crime and violence and foster greater public trust in the Chicago Police Department (CPD)—but each has very different ideas of how to get these tasks done.

Lightfoot served as Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force and President of the Chicago Police Board, where she “worked to build a transparent and accountable police department” by “disciplining officers who lied under investigation and holding officers accountable for police misconduct,” and “emphasizing the importance of a well-trained police department at every level,” she told the Gate in an interview.

In addition to pulling from her own experience to create policing policy, Lightfoot consulted with local and national experts in fields including mental health and police reform to build a platform that views violence in Chicago as a public health crisis stemming from distressed communities. She plans to address public safety by working on rebuilding neighborhoods as opposed to using a “reactive, law enforcement focused approach,” which she believes makes only “modest, incremental change,” according to her campaign website.

Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), plans to focus most heavily on increasing resources for the police department and improving budgeting. His time at CPS gave him experience running a large public system and has made him “very aware of the individual school safety issues, as well as the public safety of the communities he serves,” said Vallas’ Deputy Campaign Manager Chris Kelly in an interview with the Gate.

Reshaping the CPD

Vallas’ biggest priority in addressing public safety is re-prioritizing the budget and allocating new public safety resources.

“Sufficient and sustained staffing levels, adequate supervision and training, and effective ‘non-political’ resource management will go a long way to improving efficiency and reducing excess costs,” Vallas says on his campaign website. He plans to hire and maintain a fourteen-thousand-member department and equip every member with a taser and mace instead of only a handgun and bullet-proof vests, the department’s current requisite equipment. He also plans to instill a CPD officer at every school in the city, including during the summer months when violence rates are high.

The entire plan, which includes increased staffing and additional equipment, will cost $70 million according to his campaign website. Kelly told the Gate that at its current spending rates, the city is looking at a $1.05 billion structural deficit by 2023, and that Vallas’ campaign has a five year budget plan that nets $1.75 billion to cover the costs. “So basically [we’re] closing the budget hole, plus netting an extra $700 million to the city, while delivering these police services, education services, and mental health services.”

When it comes to creating new resources, Lightfoot has a different tactic. “Increased funding and budget management will not resolve underlying issues within CPD,” she told the Gate. Instead, she plans to create a Mayor’s Office for Public Safety staffing fifteen people with sufficient expertise to oversee the entirety of CPD, the fire department, and a new Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and to provide support for victims and witnesses and formerly incarcerated people. Currently, Emanuel’s office has only two full-time personnel devoted solely to the public safety needs of the city.

In terms of altering policing tactics and reforming police training programs, both candidates also have different approaches. Increased de-escalation and crisis intervention training and ensuring that officers participate in them multiple times per year is a cornerstone of Vallas’s campaign. Kelly pointed to the recent indictment of Jason Van Dyke for the second-degree murder of Laquan McDonald as evidence for the need for reform in the CPD training.  

Vallas also plans to improve police accountability by keeping a ten-to-one supervisor ratio, because he believes that “accountability starts at the very top.”

In contrast to Vallas’ top-down approach to accountability, Lori Lightfoot looks more towards the community to increase police accountability. She wants to improve civilian oversight of CPD, specifically by implementing a seven-person oversight commission, which was recommended by the Police Accountability Task Force while Lightfoot presided as chair. 

Decisions about the election process for this commission would be deferred until after the mayor and city council “fully vetted the design and implementation of this critical body.” The commission would have the power to hire and fire the police superintendent and the police board as well as conduct annual reviews of CPD. Lightfoot also plans to provide every officer with crisis intervention training and hire mental health professionals as co-responders.

Lightfoot also believes that CPD’s current gang database, which does not have guidelines for classifying an individual as a gang member, needs drastic reform. Often, names are entered into this database at officers’ discretion, leading to many errors which are later used in criminal investigations and can prevent people from getting jobs or housing. She wants to reform this system by giving individuals the ability to petition to have their name removed and developing detailed criteria for entering new names and regularly reviewing existing names to make sure they meet the criteria.

Seeking Long-term Solutions

Community development is Lightfoot’s biggest priority in addressing violence and crime. In order to attack the root of the issue, she told the Chicago Sun Times that she will “institute a comprehensive plan focused on uplifting these neighborhoods, identifying what’s working, what the community assets are, and backfilling that with the levers of city government." This plan includes economic development, increased job opportunities, and increased access to affordable, quality healthcare and mental health care resources. Lightfoot also wants to ensure that formerly incarcerated people have the opportunity to get back on their feet, and she plans to do this by eliminating barriers to employment.

While Vallas is focused on increasing resources for the police department as an immediate change, he also “believes in the conjunction of building up these communities and having a long term solution economically to deter threats to public safety in the future,” said his Deputy Communications Director Grace Graunke in an interview with The Gate.

Vallas recognizes the importance of mental health services—Kelly (Vallas's Deputy Campaign Manager) cited a study conducted by researchers at Drexel University which found that residents of violent crime areas have post-traumatic stress disorder at levels usually seen in veterans.

But citing lack of funding, current mayor Rahm Emanuel closed down half the city’s mental health clinics, including those in the lower-income neighborhoods of Woodlawn, Greshman, and Back of the Yards. Vallas plans to work with the Department of Health and Family Services to get funding for mental health programs and to “fund and prioritize existing good practices and use those different sources to really effectively address trauma,” Kelly said. And if marijuana is legalized, Vallas plans to use 50 percent or more of the sales tax to fund addiction, trauma, and mental health services, Kelly told the Gate.

Vallas also plans to create educational opportunities for adults who never finished high school or college and for people in the criminal justice system. Vallas has prior experience building educational institutions for adult convicts; he consulted for the Department of Justice to “reduce recidivism by building an entire school system for the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” said Kelly. The school system offers programs for literacy, high school diplomas and post-secondary education.

Vallas hopes to scale this plan city-wide. These education programs can have a major impact; according to research conducted by the Department of Justice, inmates who participate in correctional education programs have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not.

Building Public Trust in the CPD

“Communities will not be safe and the police will not be successful in their core mission to serve and protect, if there is no trust between the two,” Lightfoot said in her interview with the Gate. “People must genuinely believe that the police are legitimate and a force for good, and the police must believe that respectful, constitutional engagement with the community is their most powerful tool,”

If a witness of a crime does not trust the detectives or the police department, they will not share crucial information. Lightfoot understands this.

“No one in their right mind is going to put themselves at risk if they do not feel like the police department is going to take their information and safeguard it so they’re not fronted by their neighbors,” she told the Sun Times.

In order to bridge the divide between the police and the community, she plans to implement community involvement in officer training in which community leaders teach classes to officers from the community perspective, and training for recruit and promotion classes that include in-depth information about all seventy-seven neighborhoods in Chicago.

Lightfoot hopes to use community-police relationships to implement violence-intervention techniques, a method that has been implemented in cities like Boston and Oakland to prevent crimes before they occur. These techniques use social networking tools to help police departments identify individuals that are most likely to commit or become a victim of violence.

From there, police departments bring trained interventionists, public health providers, and former gang members to meet with individuals and their families to “deter violence” and “inform individuals of the legal risks of committing violent acts and provide vital counseling, trauma-related services and advice,” Lightfoot’s website states.

Vallas also recognizes that fostering community trust in CPD is crucial for its success. He plans to have each district host events to connect CPD with community-members, like hosting cops versus kids sporting events, having officers coach kids’ teams, and organizing block club social events, among other activities. And he believes a major part of building community trust is neighborhood representation.

Another tenant of Vallas’s plan to build community trust in the CPD is to bring people into the police and fire departments from the communities they will serve by recruiting via Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs. This way, the officers “already know the police, will join on in, and are representing their own neighborhoods instead of being shuttled around like some kind of horse,” said Kelly.

While Lightfoot’s view of violence as a public health crisis leads her to primarily seek more community-based accountability, Vallas plans to focus the most on increasing resources and reforming training top-down. Despite these differences, both candidates agree that increasing police accountability and fostering public trust in the CPD are essential for its success.

The Chicago Mayoral Election is scheduled to be held on February 26, 2019.

The image featured in this article is used under the Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International license. The original was taken by Daniel Schwen and can be found here.

Madeleine Parrish


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