CHICAGO — The city is facing a $1.2 billion budget hole for 2021 — but Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not looking at defunding the Police Department, despite demands from residents and some aldermen.
Lightfoot unveiled her proposed plan for next year’s budget at a Wednesday meeting. The mayor is suggesting filling the enormous budget hole with a $94 million property tax increase and the layoffs and furloughs of hundreds of city workers, among other things — but not major cuts to the Police Department.
Lightfoot’s plan would budget nearly $1.7 billion for the Police Department directly, cutting about $59 million — or just 3.3 percent — from what the department received for 2020. That doesn’t include the more than $100 million the city typically doles out per year in settlements.
“I’ve been very clear that I do not support defunding the police,” Lightfoot said. “… Our police officers are not our enemies.”
The mayor’s proposal stands in direct contrast to what residents told her they want.
In a city survey, about 85 percent of respondents said more funding for public health, infrastructure and other social services should come from the $1.7 billion police budget. More than 37,000 people took the survey.
And throughout the summer, Chicago saw large protests where activists called for the department to be defunded or abolished. They want the department’s money used for social services, like violence prevention and mental health care.
Some aldermen — particularly those with more progressive positions — have called for defunding, too, though they’ve said there’s little hope for that effort with Lightfoot not on board.
During Lightfoot’s budget address, seven aldermen sent out a news release where they called on the city to take $50 million from the Police Department and to use it on violence prevention groups. The move is supported by Alds. Anthony Beale (9th), Stephanie Coleman (16th), Jason Ervin (28th), Ray Lopez (15th), Emma Mitts (37th), Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago sergeant.
But Lightfoot defended the department’s funding Wednesday, saying nearly 90 percent of its money goes to personnel. Diverting money from police would mean the youngest, newest officers — who are also the most diverse and well-trained — would have to be let go, hurting the department, Lightfoot said.
The Police Department would have 614 fewer positions under Lightfoot’s budget — but those are already-empty positions that are being eliminated.
Lightfoot also said the city cannot “in this moment … responsibly enact any policies that make communities less safe,” an apparent nod to how shootings, homicides and other crimes have skyrocketed across Chicago — like in other major cities — during 2020.
Experts have said having more police does not drive down crime, though, and activists have said the city’s money would be better spent on violence prevention.
Lightfoot’s budget proposed putting $9 million more toward violence prevention efforts.
Lightfoot rejects “the false narrative that it is either fund the police or fund communities. We must and can do both,” she said.
And the mayor said the city will test a program in 2021 that uses a “co-responder model” so police officers aren’t the only ones responding first to every emergency call. Lightfoot offered few details on that pilot, though.
Notably, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd), a major proponent of defunding police, and seven other aldermen have called on the city to create a network of social workers and medical professionals who will respond to mental health crisis calls instead of officers.
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