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Alderman Wants More Mental Health Workers, Not Police — But Neighbors Want More Cops After Shooting Spike

Ravenswood Manor residents say more cops are needed to address a recent spike in shootings, but Ald. Rossana Rodriguez disagrees. “We are supportive of police reform, but it can’t be one strategy at the expense of another,” one neighbor said.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) addressing the police and neighbors at A February roll call after shootings on Wilson Avenue.
alex v. hernandez/block club chicago
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RAVENSWOOD MANOR — Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) has been a major proponent of defunding the Chicago Police Department.

The first-term alderman, who serves several Northwest Side neighborhoods, supports putting some of the nearly $1.8 billion Chicago Police budget toward social programs and community services that help prevent crime and has backed youth-led efforts to remove officers from public high schools.

Now, Rodriguez is backing an ambitious proposal she feels will help the city reduce the footprint of police — but not all her constituents are on board.

Rodriguez and seven aldermen introduced an ordinance last week to create a network of social workers and medical professionals who will respond to emergency calls about mental health crises, rather than armed officers.

But some neighbors say the plan does nothing to address a more immediate issue: Shootings have more than doubled in the 17th Police District this year. They want more cameras and police patrols in their area, which Rodriguez is resisting.

“Rossana wants to double down on one prong of addressing crime,” said Heather Sullivan, who lives in Ravenswood Manor. “We are supportive of police reform, but it can’t be one strategy at the expense of another.”

Rodriguez says she understands neighbors’ fears but argues the current policing system won’t end gun violence.

“I don’t speak out of both sides of my mouth,” Rodriguez said. “I’m advocating so hard to get us away from how policing currently works. So I can’t in good conscience also advocate for more police to keep doing what they’ve been doing for decades when I know it doesn’t work.”

‘What Public Safety Looks Like’

Rodriguez’s ordinance is based on the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets program, known as CAHOOTS, which has been used in Eugene, Oregon, for 31 years.

The initiative would create 24-hour crisis response teams with a clinical social worker and an emergency medical technician or registered nurse.

The teams would be dispatched from a network of public community mental health centers, expanding upon the city’s current five clinics. 

These centers would be funded in the city’s 2021 budget and be available for the teams to provide followup case management, public engagement, special projects with community members, professional development and preventative educational services. 

“One of the things we definitely want to tackle is the issue of sending police to respond to mental health emergencies,” Rodriguez said. “But then there is a lot of other emergencies that we’re sending police to where police are not needed. We believe that that is a waste of resources and continues to increase the need for police where we don’t need police.”

Supporters of CAHOOTS cite the fatal police shootings of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones in West Garfield Park in 2015. Family said the teen was having a mental health crisis and called police for help.

Robert Rialmo, one of the responding officers, shot and killed LeGrier, 19, and Jones, 55, the teen’s neighbor who answered the door. Rialmo was fired from the department four years later.  

“In Chicago, we send police to deal with every single thing, even if we don’t need an armed officer there. And we’re sending people that are not trained enough to deal with these mental health issues,” Rodriguez said. “It’s overkill and hurting Black and Brown communities.” 

CAHOOTS teams handled about 20 percent of the 911 calls made to Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, police departments in 2019, clinic coordinator Ben Brubaker told NPR in June.

The CAHOOTS budget is about $2.1 million annually, while the combined annual budgets for the Eugene and Springfield police departments
are $90 million, according to program data.

Despite its smaller budget, the CAHOOTS program saved the city of Eugene an estimated $8.5 million in public safety spending 2014-2017, according to White Bird Clinic, which started the program.

Of the 24,000 calls CAHOOTS fielded in 2019, less than 1 percent needed help from police, operations coordinator Tim Black told Mother Jones.

The measure is being backed by progressive aldermen Daniel LaSpata (1st), Jeannette Taylor (20th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th), Andre Vazquez (40th), Matthew Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th). The council’s committee on Health and Human Relations is scheduled to review it this month. 

“It’s really exciting in part because it’s a different way of getting at police reform which doesn’t accept the premise that every perceived emergency someone sees necessitates … armed officers coming in,” Martin said.

CAHOOTS’ success has prompted cities like San Francisco, Denver and Albuquerque to pursue similar programs, Martin said. 

“This is an opportunity for us to join our sister cities in really reimagining what public safety looks like and, more specifically, how the government supports that,” Martin said.

‘I’ve Never Seen Violence Like This In Ravenswood Manor Before’

Neighbors like Sullivan say they are skeptical how the measure will address an increase in shootings in Albany Park, Ravenswood Manor and Irving Park in the short term. Eugene and Chicago are very different cities, and implementing CAHOOTS will take time, even if City Council backs it, Sullivan said.

Last year, neighbors complained to police about the increase in shootings in the area between Lawrence Avenue to the north, Pulaski Road to the west, the Chicago River to the east and Irving Park Road to the south. 

The city began assigning more officers to the district in January, working to pinpoint the current gang conflict areas, increase police patrols, request tactical teams and continue video surveillance.

But as of Sept. 6, there have been 41 shootings reported in the district, compared to 20 shootings at the same point in 2019. At least two other shootings were reported on Kedzie Avenue in the past week.

“… We still don’t have the cameras and we still don’t have the officer manpower,” State Rep. Jaime Andrade said. “At the end of the day, the problem remains we need more people and more cameras. I’ve never seen violence like this in Ravenswood Manor before.”

Andrade supports police reform efforts, but he feels frustrated the city isn’t fulfilling pledges to add more police to the area and his office is fielding calls about shootings, he said.

“From speaking to officers in the district, they say they need more people,” Andrade said. “We, for sure, need more violence prevention. But that’s something for the future. Shootings are happening right now, and we need more officers right now to address it.”

Both Rodriguez and Andrade also suggested the city expand the $6 million in funding to street outreach programs on the South and West sides to Albany Park and Ravenswood Manor to help address the uptick in shootings in the short term.

Bette Rosenstein, president of the Ravenswood Manor Improvement Association, said she was shaken by an Aug. 29 shooting near Sunnyside and Manor, “when people were still out and children were playing.” No one was hit in that incident.

“I’m all for Rossana’s long-term solutions, but that doesn’t help us in the short term,” Rosenstein said.

At minimum, Sullivan wants surveillance cameras at the intersections of Francisco and Montrose, near the apartment building where a 27-year-old woman was killed in February, and at Manor and Wilson, where she says gang shootings have been happening.

“Floating offers” and gang units are patrolling the district, Rodriguez said, but she noted these are limited resources that are moved around the city by the Police Department.

A police spokesperson didn’t say how many officers are assigned to the district but did say staffing levels across the city “remain sufficient to ensure public safety throughout Chicago.”

Officers with Albany Park district’s community policing program will also ask neighbors for help drafting an updated crime reduction plan for the Albany Park area this fall. 

“Long-term mental health services and the alderman’s plan is great. I completely agree it’s needed,” said Misha Mann, president of the Residents Of Irving Park group. “But there is also the need to address these shootings right now. It’s really shortsighted to look at crime in just one way — long term — when you have an issue right now that has to be dealt with.”

Outrage over last year’s increase led to the creation of the Northwest Safety Coalition, a collection of neighborhood groups to address the violence.

“We want elected officials, neighbors and the police to work together and help stop these shootings. The way neighbors got together last year shows we’re willing to put in the work. But we can’t do this alone,” Mann said.

Rodriguez remains firm additional police isn’t the solution.

“Police aren’t good at actually predicting and preventing shootings,” Rodriguez said. “What we have been doing is not working. So why are people refusing to try something different that has worked in other places like Eugene, Oregon? We need to aggressively fund things other than police to address the lack of resources that got us here in the first place.”

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