Both candidates in Chicago’s April 2 mayoral runoff promised on Wednesday to take on gun violence by making massive investments in the city’s poorest neighborhoods but neither put a price tag on their plans.
At an afternoon forum, attorney Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle described the shootings not as a problem of criminality but as a crisis of public health. Both vowed to increase city spending on jobs, schools and mental health care in the hardest-hit areas.
“We cannot continue on a law-enforcement first-and-only strategy,” Lightfoot, the former Police Board president, said at the forum, sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
Asked where the money would come from, Lightfoot said the public was already paying a steep price by cycling so many people through the criminal justice system.
Preckwinkle got more specific.
“I’ve been told that we need to look carefully at the Police Department budget and there might be opportunities to reallocate resources there,” she said.
The Emanuel administration’s main investment in response to a gun violence surge that began in 2016 was to expand the police department by nearly 1,000 officers.
The mayor is also pushing a proposed $95 million academy on the West Side for police and fire department training. The City Council approved key aspects of the plan on Wednesday.
Both Preckwinkle and Lightfoot said they would back new spending for police training but not that project.
“We definitely need to invest in a facility to support our police and firefighters,” Preckwinkle said. “That’s not the concern. It’s whether or not we need a $95 million new building at that location.”
Preckwinkle said she would work to find a different location but declined to specify possibilities.
Lightfoot said one prospect was adopting some of the city’s 38 vacant school buildings for police training facilities.
“I wouldn’t necessarily put [the proposed academy] in a different neighborhood but I think there has to be, in every investment we make, a process that starts with respectful engagement of the people in the community whose lives are going to be most affected,” Lightfoot said. “That wasn’t done here.”
And if the plan proceeds before Emanuel’s term ends in May, Lightfoot pledged to “do whatever I can to right any wrongs if I’m fortunate enough to become the next mayor.”