CHICAGO — Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) and a handful of his City Council allies are pushing to reshuffle tens of millions of dollars into a new regime of public safety programs that emphasize non-police community outreach, saying existing structures have failed to tamp down violence.
The proposals were among more than a dozen new citywide ordinances and resolutions introduced to the City Council on Wednesday, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s long-awaited “Connected Communities Ordinance” to boost development near transit. They come as the city braces for a surge of summer violence, and less than a month after Sawyer announced a run for mayor.
Sawyer rolled out an ordinance (O2022-1890) Wednesday that would create the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a new office charged with drafting a “comprehensive, long-term plan to address violence.” It would replace the mayor’s existing Community Safety Coordination Center system, which Sawyer dismissed as a “flash in the pan” without permanent funding or resources.
The proposal is co-sponsored by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20) and Ald. Harry Osterman (48). Additionally, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33), Ald. Matt Martin (47) and Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) stood behind Sawyer as he touted the proposal in a news conference before Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“We want to get to a point now where we can have these issues codified and really work on long-term solutions to address gun violence, and we feel this is the appropriate way to do this,” Sawyer said. “I hear a lot lately about having tools in toolboxes. But previously, tools were like forks — they weren’t the real tools to combat what we need to combat in our communities right now. This is that real tool.”
The ordinance would set a baseline of 1.5 percent of the city’s Corporate Fund budget — about $100 million — to fund the Office of Neighborhood Safety and staff it with at least 19 employees. The commissioner of the office would be empowered to “Coordinate the City’s efforts to address gun violence using a public health approach that prioritizes human dignity and community empowerment” and “[c]ollect, monitor, and report data on the illegal gun market, gun violence, causes, and interventions,” among other responsibilities.
Sawyer’s measure, which is backed by the group Live Free Illinois, would also convene a 16-member advisory commission to “provide guidance and oversight to the Office of Neighborhood Safety.”
Lightfoot came into office in 2019 with a similar push to strengthen and consolidate the city’s anti-violence efforts by launching the city’s Office of Public Safety Administration to coordinate the efforts of the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department and Office of Emergency Management and Communications. And in 2021, her administration launched the Community Safety Coordination Center, which she promoted as a “whole of government” coalition to coordinate anti-violence interventions across multiple city departments.
But Sawyer emphasized the coordination center is a function of the mayor’s office that is not written into the city’s budget with standalone funding.
“We want long-term solutions — we don’t want a flash-in-the-pan-style solution that works this week and is going to go away next week,” Sawyer said. “We want to make sure that whatever investments we make, they’re secure…long-term investments with engagement from the community with an official title.
‘Peace Book’ ordinance
Organizers with the group Good Kids Mad City also joined Sawyer and other aldermen on Wednesday to formally introduce the Peace Book Ordinance (O2022-1891), a proposal that has been circulating for years but had not been formally introduced as an ordinance until this month.
Ald. Derrick Curtis (18) diverted the Peace Book ordinance to the Rules Committee, delaying discussion on the proposal. Curtis told The Daily Line he believes the proposal belongs in the rules committee.
“I have some things that I’m against in [the proposal], but overall I like it,” Curtis said. “But there’s still some things that need to be talked about.”
Although aldermen often send proposals to the rules committee when they want to scuttle them, Curtis said “there’s no reason [committee chair Ald. Michelle Harris (8)] would just hold it in rules.”
Hairston, who is the lead sponsor of the ordinance, told The Daily Line after the meeting that she was “very upset with Alderman Curtis doing the bidding of the administration.”
“The mayor has personally made commitments to these kids — these kids have done everything that we have asked them to do,” Hairston said. “They at least deserve to have it go to the committee and be heard.”
Youth organizers with Good Kids Mad City called on aldermen to support the ordinance during a news conference Wednesday morning.
“The Peace Book ordinance was created with the knowledge and understanding that what the city of Chicago has been doing to protect, empower and support the people in the city, particularly our young people, [has] not been working,” said Assata Lewis, a restorative justice practitioner with Good Kids Mad City. “Every day someone dies, and unfortunately we have become desensitized to the gravity of what it means when someone died.”
A draft of the ordinance says it would create a “youth-led violence reduction organization” that focuses on “reducing intercommunal violence and overpolicing.”
Additionally under the draft ordinance, a Peace Book published in multiple formats would serve as a “public safety resource” with contact information and a directory of youth services for those living in “communities targeted by over-policing and mass incarceration.”
The Peace Book Ordinance would create “Neighborhood Peace Commissions” that would be tasked with establishing neighborhood initiatives that promote peace and safety. A citywide “Peace Commission” would include representatives from each of the neighborhood commissions and would distribute funding and resources to and supporting the neighborhood commissions.
Peace Book supporters on Wednesday said they intend for the ordinance to be implemented as a pilot program at first, with an eye toward the 5th, 3rd, 4th and 20th Wards.
According to the draft ordinance, 2 percent of the Chicago Police Department budget would be allocated to a fund supporting the Peace Book and its commissions.
Lewis said the proposal is “more than a piece of legislation, it’s more than a document. It’s living, breathing and created by the community.”
“The power lies in our community, and it’s time to invest in those communities and divest in perpetuating harm caused by those who are supposed to protect us and those who have no relationships with our communities,” Lewis said.
Rodriguez-Sanchez said she has been working with Good Kids Mad City for years in trying to figure out how best to introduce the Peace Book into the City Council.
“I am committed to fighting like hell to see this through because this is a moment and an opportunity that we have to change direction, to change the course of strategies that we have been using in order to address the crisis of violence that we have in this city,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said.
“I’m confident that the youth problems could all be solved by youth solutions,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6). “We’re going to support the Peace Book ordinance. We’re going to see it work and we have every confidence that it will be successful.”
“The administration needs to listen to the kids,” Hairston said. “Everyone says they want a solution — well they have a solution.”
Hairston said she is asking Lightfoot’s administration to “be responsible and listen to the kids that have solutions.”