This week, Mayor Lightfoot issued a statement standing with those who are “sick and tired of the lack of fundamental change.” I agree. I stand in favor of police reform and police accountability. I believe that we must take action and we must do it now.
Our communities have been standing up for change and have been naming inequities at the hands of law enforcement for decades. We have the opportunity at this moment to reimagine our police system and emergency response. Together, we can build new, equitable, and just systems.
I support creative solutions that allow social workers, rather than police, to stem the tide of repeated arrests of non-violent offenders.
For too long, calling the police has been the only option for handling situations involving mental health crises, active addictions, homelessness, and youth. It especially underscores the tremendous failing on the part of our institutions that someone living with a mental health diagnosis, in the midst of a medical emergency, is confronted by armed officers who don’t have the skill set of a licensed social worker. We must establish common-sense, holistic, community-led alternatives so that trained social workers can be dispatched to support people in mental health crises, some of whom have had hundreds of arrests yet never once got the needed help to address their underlying issues. Social workers are equipped to de-escalate a situation, offer support, and coordinate a successful handoff to an agency. This is an approach that will eliminate the cycle of repeated arrests. It is imperative that we provide adequate funding for this and other programs designed to right-size our police force and limit their responsibilities to those that actually necessitate a police response. It’s also important that we evaluate this new approach to make sure it’s producing outcomes of reduced crime.
We already have a model for a strategic response to crises in our current 911 system, which is capable of dispatching EMTs, the Fire Department, and/or the police based on the type of emergency. If your house is on fire, 911 doesn’t send out the police, they send the fire department. Let’s use this system to dispatch other qualified professionals as well.
911 is a tremendous data collection tool. We have information recorded that details all the reasons people call 911. I am asking for an analysis of this information so that we can implement a data-driven approach to establish alternative crisis response personnel. We must fully fund these operations and we must ensure that the appropriate support systems, from education to mental health care, are funded as well.
I support police accountability and reform.
We have a civic obligation to Chicagoans in all communities to rebuild our police system and focus on public safety. We have a moral obligation to look to Black leadership on how to accomplish this.
I stand with my colleagues living on the Southside and Westside, and with the members of the Black Caucus, whose communities have named their needs. They’ve told me they want to feel safe in their homes. They want their children to be able to play in their yards and ride their bikes. Ultimately, they want to be able to enjoy their neighborhood. Many fear what it would be like in their neighborhood to eliminate the police. We owe it to them to make sure they have adequate police protection, while also making good on our promise of bringing more resources to their communities. I support Mayor Lightfoot’s announcement yesterday to call for a change to Illinois state law, requiring licensing for all Chicago police officers, an idea that was first proposed by Attorney General Kwame Raoul when he was a member of the State Senate. Licensing officers adds another level of accountability because it ensures that officers with repeated misconduct are unable to continue working regardless of their union contract.
Any police accountability measure passed by City Council must take short and long term effects into account. I want to ensure that our efforts are clear and effective. Currently, there are two different versions of proposed police accountability ordinances, the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) and the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). Whichever ordinance that the Public Safety Chair introduces to committee will no doubt go through the rigorous negotiations needed to get it passed.
I have heard many of you speak on the need to do something now. I hear you, and my promise is that I will ensure that whichever ordinance gets introduced to the Public Safety Committee and then through City Council, it will be closely monitored afterward to ensure it’s producing real results of addressing police brutality while also restoring the public’s trust, especially for the African American community.
In the coming weeks, I look forward to difficult, complex conversations with my colleagues in City Council and with you.