CHICAGO — At a time when policy analysts say Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s task of presenting a balanced budget amid an economic downturn due to the pandemic is already “a challenge,” a citywide survey released by the mayor’s office shows nearly nine in 10 respondents support reallocating city resources away from police .
The city’s budget survey was available from Aug. 31 through Sept. 20, and 37,679 people responded, more than five times the number of people who responded to the survey conducted in 2019. Results of the survey, presented at a town hall meeting Wednesday hosted by Lightfoot and Budget Director Susie Park, showed respondents favor investing more in community services at the expense of the police department.
“All city areas ranked community services, including violence prevention, homeless support services, youth services as the highest priority with police services as the lowest,” Park said.
Following community services in ranked priorities were public health, infrastructure, other public safety, streets and sanitation, library, city development, cultural affairs, regulatory services and police services, the survey showed.
“We very much value the feedback we’ve gotten from a range of different sources, a survey being one of them. We are taking all of that into consideration, and we expect that a lot of feedback will be reflected in the budget that we present to City Council,” Lightfoot said at a Thursday news conference.
The survey shows 87 percent of respondents who believe city resources should be reallocated said that money should come out of police services.
“Of more than the 19,000 comments we received on the survey, more than 18,000 mentioned the police,” Park said Wednesday.
Lightfoot during the town hall Wednesday pushed back against a question asking why the city “prioritized the police budget over others.”
“We don’t prioritize funding for the police department over other necessary services that really build healthy and strong communities. We’ve made historic investments in mental health, in affordable housing, in homeless prevention and to the extent that we can continue to prioritize those and funding at the same level, we’re going to,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot is one of the country’s few big-city mayors who has flatly rejected calls to shift resources away from police, calling the movement to defund police a “nice hashtag” but maintaining that she believes most city residents want more resources for police, not less.
The results of the budget survey come as the city is facing a projected $1.2 billion budget gap for 2021 on top of an $800 million shortfall for this year’s budget. “Those are staggering numbers, most of which is attributable to COVID-19 impact on our economy,” Lightfoot said Wednesday.
Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) said she is “not surprised” at the survey results calling to move funding away from the city’s police department.
“That’s the only place where the money is,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “Most of the money is there, so to take money out of the library or public health, there’s no money there, they’re already down to the bone.”
Rodriguez-Sanchez in September introduced a City Council order (Or2020-242) that would create a Crisis Response and Care System under the city’s health department as an alternative to police.
She said the police department as an institution “in itself is a problem,” not necessarily individual officers.
“We’re struggling to be able to enforce the consent decree,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. ”We’re still using that as our primary tool to keep people safe, but we haven’t been successful in that, so I don’t know how we can expect people wouldn’t want to move away from that.”
Rodriguez-Sanchez said she sees multiple areas in the police budget to cut, including overtime and “training that is not effective at all.”
When it comes to incorporating resident feedback into the city’s budget, Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said Lightfoot “should listen and understand what the concerns of the community are, and then she has to do her job of governing.”
Elected officials “shouldn’t only listen to what a very strong advocacy group has to say,” he said. “The challenge of public policy is you are making resource allocation choices that have to compare apples to oranges.”
Communities across Illinois and the country are examining how police departments are funded.
“We have to fund those services, but how the money is allocated, it’s good for government to think about from time to time, is the balance right?” said Carol Portman, president of the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois.
While the city received survey responses from every Chicago ZIP code, Park said North Side residents made up the largest portion of respondents at 45 percent and residents of the West Side accounted for the lowest portion at 4 percent.
“This is definitely an area we want to continue to work on so we can make sure that we have a better distribution and representation of our survey across the entire city,” Park said.
Lightfoot called repeatedly during the town hall for the federal government to “step up and do its fair share to help cities like Chicago.”
“If they don’t, we’ve been working on a number of different scenarios to make sure that we deliver for residents of our city, but obviously we have to do it with consciousness that we have dire fiscal circumstances that we are facing both this year and next,” Lightfoot said.
The city is “kicking around lots of ideas, and it’s not like there’s some fancy silver bullet someone is going to pick up and say ‘here’s how we solve our problem,’” Portman said.
But the city is “in a difficult situation” without “a lot of revenue solutions in their toolkit,” Martire said.
Responding to a question about the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), Lightfoot said, “I don’t support it. And I’ve been very clear on that since CPAC really came into fashion.”