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Cook County Board Resolves To Redirect Dollars Away From Jails And Policing, Calling It A ‘Failed System’

By approving the Justice for Black Lives resolution, Cook County will work to steer its multibillion-dollar policing budget toward health care, restorative justice and jobs instead in the coming years.

Commissioners debate the “Justice for Black Lives” resolution during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.
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CHICAGO — Cook County will work to steer its multibillion-dollar budget away from police and jails in favor of initiatives like health care, restorative justice and job creation in the coming years, according to a resolution approved by commissioners in a 15-1 vote on Thursday.

The Justice for Black Lives Resolution (20-2867), introduced last month by Comm. Brandon Johnson (D-1), says county leaders “should engage in efforts to redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services not administered by law enforcement.” While non-binding, the resolution represents a sea change in priorities for the county, which this year dedicated nearly one-fifth of its budget to maintaining its behemoth jail and courts system.

RELATED: County leaders endorse step toward winding down jail, court funding as grim budget decisions loom

“We know that funding once earmarked for the police needs to flow into neighborhoods to improve education, housing, employment opportunities and treatment,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told reporters after Thursday’s meeting. “Systemic racism continues to plague our communities [that] are over-policed, and there’s a disproportionate number of Black deaths at the hands of the police.”

Preckwinkle added that she has advocated for “reducing and redirecting our investment in law enforcement…for my entire career.” Her statement paints a stark contrast against Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has resisted calls to rein in the budget of the Chicago Police Department.

Proponents of the Justice for Black Lives resolution have been careful not to label it as a direct concession to activists’ demands to “defund police.” During a committee meeting held to consider the resolution on Monday, Johnson said his proposal is “not about laying people off, consolidations or closures,” but rather “calling for an expansion of government services” in other sectors.

The resolution outlines eight areas that should benefit from shifting resources away from policing and jails: housing, health care, mental health, restorative justice, job creation, public transit, eviction and foreclosure assistance, and increasing government contracts with businesses owned by women and people of color.

Comm. Sean Morrison (R-17), the only commissioner who voted against the measure, said it was “designed” to drain resources from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which was allocated almost $600 million for the 2020 fiscal year. He pointed to Preckwinkle’s request for Sheriff Tom Dart to shrink his budget by almost 14 percent next year, saying the cut will “affect those communities that are largely people of color — the ones that need the sheriff’s protection above anyone else.”

Preckwinkle and Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki told reporters Thursday that their proposed rollbacks of the sheriff’s office budget are in line with cuts they’ve requested of all county offices as they stare down a $410 million budget gap in 2021. They denied that Dart’s office was singled out.

RELATED: Cook County Jail, court system face budget reckoning as commissioners mull shifting funding from policing

Morrison, who chairs the Cook County Republican Party, called Johnson’s resolution a “bombastic” attempt to “castigate all police officers,” saying it was “offensive” to police and their families — especially after the shooting of three Chicago Police officers on Thursday.

“These are times when law enforcement has to know that we have their back, that we stand behind them,” Morrison said.

Comm. Deborah Sims (D-5) retorted by urging Morrison to watch news reports from the day of George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police, when “we watched the life drain from his body, she said.”

“I was offended by that,” Sims said. “I never heard my colleague say that he was offended by that.”

Comm. Larry Suffredin (D-13) also took a swipe at Morrison, saying the resolution has “been battered…on social media by some members of this board who have not wanted to have a proper discussion, who have wanted to divide people and put policemen on one side and citizens on the other.”

Even Comm. Peter Silvestri (R-9), the only other Republican on the board, spoke up for the resolution on Thursday. He called it a way of “looking at the budget and seeing if there are ways to improve it,” adding that its passage would not by itself force “one dollar [to be] defunded from any agency, including the sheriff.”

Johnson repeatedly said he hoped for a unanimous vote in support, saying it is the board’s “responsibility in this moment to address the failures of systems.”

“We are tired of being policed and surveilled, and that the only way our people can receive treatment is if we’re brought into captivity,” Johnson said. “That is a failed system, and I will reject that system until the day that I die.”

Comm. Frank Aguilar (D-16) voted to support the resolution in committee on Monday, but he voted “present” on Thursday, saying he had changed his mind. Aguilar said he felt “very uncomfortable with defunding the police” and does not “want to punish a whole police department for several who have misbehaved.”

Other items introduced and considered

Also on Thursday, Comm. Kevin Morrison (D-15) introduced a resolution (20-3482) calling on the board’s Criminal Justice Committee to hold monthly hearings to grill the sheriff’s office on its expenditures. Morrison said his desire for tighter oversight of the sheriff’s office was motivated in part by a contract (20-2326) the board approved Thursday for food products at the Cook County Jail. Morrison spoke up to defer the item at last month’s board meeting because he had “moral” qualms about the jail profiting off detainees’ commissary payments, he said.

“Creating a better engine to have oversight on how that revenue is being spent is important, and something we should be doing as a board,” Morrison told The Daily Line after the meeting.

The following other measures on Thursday were introduced, withdrawn or diverted to committees for further discussion:

  • Kevin Morrison and Comm. Scott Britton (D-14) introduced a proposal (20-3562) to create a Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance specifying renters’ rights, similar to the ordinances already in effect in Chicago and Evanston. Suburbs in the county would have the right to opt out of the ordinance if they wished, Britton told The Daily Line Thursday.
  • Comm. Stanley Moore (D-4) and Comm. Dennis Deer (D-2) withdrew their separate proposals (20-346020-3476) to make Juneteenth an official county holiday. Deer said he and Moore would work with Preckwinkle’s administration and return in September with a proposal to honor the 1865 emancipation of the last slaves in America that is “as budget-neutral as possible.”
  • Four tax proposed tax incentives for various suburban properties were sent to the board’s Economic Development Committee. Suffredin, Silvestri, Sims, Aguilar and Comm. Luis Arroyo (D-8) all voted “present” on one of the proposals, a class 7C tax incentive for Heidner Family Limited Partnership to develop a vacant property at 5611 S. Archer Ave. in Summit.
  • Three proposed appointments (20-342820-343120-3433) to the Cook County Health Board of Directors were sent to the board’s Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.
  • A resolution by Britton endorsing the “10 shared principles” of police reform published by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police was sent to the board’s Law Enforcement Committee.

The board approved all other measures included in The Daily Line’s preview of the meeting, including $5 million in grants (20-3311) to Metropolitan Family Services for anti-violence programming.

RELATED: Cook County pumps $5M into nonviolence program, but alderman doubts effectiveness: ‘we’re not getting results’

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