EDISON PARK — A Northwest Side alderman wants City Council members who support defunding the Chicago Police Department to agree to move at least half of the officers in their wards to other parts of the city.
At least nine aldermen say they support examining the police budget and reallocating some of that funding into social services, mental health programs and community interventions that help prevent violence and reduce the need for policing.
In response, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said he will introduce a City Council resolution calling for a pilot program that would ask pro-defunding aldermen to agree to remove at least half the police personnel and other resources within their wards, so they can be “evenly redistributed” to aldermen who want more cops in their areas.
Napolitano, a former police officer and firefighter, announced the resolution in a Wednesday Facebook post.
Napolitano’s ward is home to many police officers and other first responders. For years the alderman has complained about the city moving officers from the Jefferson Park district to assist the city’s other police districts with higher crime rates.
The 41st ward fits into the northwest corner of the Jefferson Park (16th) District’s boundaries. This district is one of the largest in the city and is ranked the fifth safest over the past 12 months, according to police data.
Napolitano did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Fellow council members dismissed Napolitano’s move as political posturing.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) criticized that Napolitano introduced this as a resolution — which are often ceremonial in nature and used to honor individuals and organizations — and not as an actual ordinance that can be signed into law.
“A resolution is a proclamation of values. To put that in another way, a resolution is talking the talk but an ordinance is walking the walk,” Vasquez said.
Vazquez and Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) both have told Block Club they favor proposals to scrutinize the police department’s budget.
“That is a stunt and I am ashamed a fellow City Council member is mocking the demands of Black people on the streets right now with this nonsense,” Rodriguez said.
Napolitano’s measure doesn’t address the funding issue City Council members and community activists are asking for, Rodriguez said. It only proposes to remove police from wards but does not mention boosting funding for the housing, education, mental health and other programs she and other aldermen want city dollars to support.
“I’m just beyond disgusted by his behavior. I can’t wait to call this out next week in City Council to his face,” Rodriguez said. “He just wants to rile up his right wing people with his nonsense.”
Brittney Hantak, who lives in Napolitano’s ward, said she supports diverting some police funding to benefit more social services. Serious conversation about how much money the city gives to the police department every year is long overdue, she said.
“Police did not sign up for these roles like healthcare worker or mental health counselor,” Hantak said. “But they’re stuck in this cycle of being asked to fix every problem of society and the only tools we give them are a gun and handcuffs.”
Defunding the police department has been a core demand of community activists for years. The issue has received renewed attention and urgency during nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
The city budgeted nearly $1.8 billion for the Chicago Police Department in 2020, according to Chicago’s budget overview, which comprises about 40 percent of the city’s operating budget. Chicago’s is the second-largest police department in the U.S. with more than 13,000 officers, according to its most recent annual report.
The city continues to spend more on policing per person than at any time in the last half-century despite a persistent drop in crime over the last two decades and the vast majority of murders remain unsolved, according to an analysis by Injustice Watch.
“Clearly the status quo of policing in this city isn’t working with the millions in misconduct settlements we pay out every year. But I don’t think he wants to have an honest dialogue about that or what public safety could look like,” Vasquez said of Napolitano.
But none of the aldermanic proposals meet the demands of community activists like Black Lives Matter Chicago, whose organizers want to move city funds completely out of the police department and reinvest in community resources. Elected officials have been skittish about that, instead focusing on funding reductions.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot so far has rejected calls to reduce police funding, arguing neighborhoods want more police support. Instead she’s said her reform priorities involve additional training in “respectful, constitutional engagement,” better supervision of officers and making sure the police union contracts can’t be used to block needed reforms.
On Thursday, Lightfoot said she understood the frustrations of those calling to defund the police, but said the city needs police to combat violent crime and open air drug markets. She said her administration is focused on investing in neighborhood resources that should reduce the need for police in communities.
“We have to bring resources and investments to neighborhoods and communities that have been without an ounce of investment for decades,” she said. “I am committed to making sure that we change that history so that we are investing and answering the cry and the plea of this moment.”
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