Lightfoot Proposes Scaling Back Boots And Red-Light Cameras

booting in Chicago
Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
booting in Chicago
Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Lightfoot Proposes Scaling Back Boots And Red-Light Cameras

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Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot is expected to announce a plan Friday that could drastically alter the way City Hall handles vehicle ticketing, fines and fees.

Her proposal comes in response to investigations by WBEZ and ProPublica Illinois, which found the city’s ticketing system disproportionately affects poor Chicagoans and people of color. Lightfoot wants to eliminate using the wheel-jamming Denver boot for non-moving violations, and also take down any red light cameras that are being used for revenue and not safety – which may be all of them.

“I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck, so I understand on a personal level how regressive fines and fees disproportionately impact Chicagoans who are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Lightfoot.

Lightfoot’s campaign appears to have taken up the banner to “ban the boot,” which was championed by former mayoral candidate Amara Enyia.

Citing a WBEZ investigation, her campaign pointed out that, since 2011, Chicago has sold nearly 50,000 cars whose owners couldn’t afford to have the boots removed.

“This sort of punitive policy is wrong and counterproductive, as it makes it harder for the person to earn a paycheck if their car has been booted or sold,” Lightfoot’s campaign said in a statement.

The former federal prosecutor also wants to eliminate racial disparities in traffic enforcement and allow more people to enter into payment plans with the city if they can’t afford their tickets. Another proposal would give drivers in Chicago the option to prove they’ve corrected a violation, such as a lapsed city sticker or license plate registration, before getting walloped with a big fine.

Lightfoot’s opponent in the April 2 runoff election, Democratic Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, has previously gone on the record saying she also wants to reform Chicago’s ticketing system.

In January, Preckwinkle said she would roll back city sticker fines to 2011 levels and institute a graduated cost schedule for city stickers. She also supports ending license suspensions for parking ticket debt; reforming the payment plan structure; eliminating penalties for booted and seized vehicles; and ending the “anti-scofflaw” policy, which bans debtors from holding city jobs, and from driving cabs or rideshares.

“Chicagoans deserve a mayor who will stand up on this issue.  We cannot balance the City budget on the backs of those least able to bear that burden. If elected mayor, I will pursue the following changes in our ticketing and fee policies,” Lightfoot’s campaign said in a statement.

It’s unknown how her proposals will affect the city’s ability to raise much-needed revenue. Her campaign said while the proposed changes might mean less money in the short-term, “the vast majority of issued tickets go unpaid, so these proposals can reduce taxpayer debts without immediately affecting revenues.”

Lightfoot’s announcement comes amid the now months-long effort by City Clerk Anna Valencia to examine the problems with the system. She launched a task force in December to gather officials, city departments and researchers to create a report and recommendations for the next mayor.

Kate LeFurgy, a spokesperson for Valencia’s office, responded to Lightfoot’s proposal on Thursday.

“The Office of the City Clerk has led the way in creating meaningful reforms for the city’s fines and fees, many of which are outside the realm of our own office’s responsibilities,” she said in a statement.

“We took on this work because we heard directly from residents on how this was impacting their lives and wanted to create a coordinated approach to tackling this issue… We truly believe the best policy is made with those who are impacted the most,” she said.

Lightfoot’s campaign said they would take into account the task force’s recommendations. It’s unclear how her proposed changes would be affected by the candidate’s suggestion on Thursday that the Clerk’s Office, which oversees the city’s sticker program, be eliminated.

The proposals come as the Illinois Senate passed the “License to Work Act” earlier on Thursday, which would halt suspensions of drivers’ licenses for non-moving violations. The bill still needs approval from the Illinois House and the governor.

The legislation was championed by advocacy groups such as Community Organizing and Family Issues, and the Chicago Jobs Council. The legislation was spurred by reporting from ProPublica Illinois, which found the West and South Sides of Chicago bore the brunt of the 21,000 licenses that were suspended in Illinois in 2017.

Elliott Ramos is an editor who does data reporting for WBEZ. Follow him @ChicagoEL