Here Are 5 Takeaways From The Chicago Police Department’s Budget Hearing

Hundreds of Chicago police officers attend a graduation ceremony at the Aon Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier on July 9, 2019. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Hundreds of Chicago police officers attend a graduation ceremony at the Aon Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier on July 9, 2019. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Here Are 5 Takeaways From The Chicago Police Department’s Budget Hearing

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Amid nationwide calls to “defund” police departments, Chicago aldermen spent all day Thursday discussing the city’s police department budget for 2021.

There were calls to shift cops from downtown back to other neighborhoods, questions about how many murders go unsolved and requests to reallocate money away from policing and toward mental health and affordable housing. And aldermen also raised concerns about retirements, overtime spending and progress on a court-ordered police reform plan.

Several aldermen even asked the city’s police superintendent what the department can do about complaints from constituents about loud noise from motorcycles.

Here are some takeaways from the marathon Chicago Police Department budget hearing.

Chicago’s budget for police is decreasing

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2021 spending plan reduces the police department’s budget by $58.9 million, down to $1.69 billion. Last year, the department’s budget was $1.75 billion and Superintendent David Brown said Tuesday the amount spent on overtime is already $35 million over budget.

The smaller budget proposal for next year is partly due to Lightfoot’s plan to cut roughly 600 vacant positions from the police force. Officials said Thursday that move will save $30 million.

There is also an ongoing shift of certain operations to the Office of Public Safety Administration, which Lightfoot created last year. Officials said Thursday about $25 million in department costs will be shifted to that new office, which is expected to grow, from $30 million this year to $135 million next year.

Progressive Caucus wants to move away from “police first” response

Several aldermen with the City Council’s Progressive Caucus continue to push for reductions in the amount of money spent on the police department. They would like to see more money put toward mental health services, affordable housing and other crisis response models.

“Half my residents really believe that we’re spending too much money on police and that we should be defunding the police,” said Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward. “And I’ve got another half of my residents who don’t want to defund the police, but are very dissatisfied with the service they are getting from [the police].”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward, said that national data indicate about half of all emergency calls are related to non-violent incidents and could be handled by other professionals in lieu of police.

“What we are proposing is a non-law enforcement model,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “This is what is being rolled out in a lot of cities across the country, including cities that already have gone through a ‘co-responder’ model, and have figured out that they actually don’t need to be bringing police in most instances.”

Police superintendent outlines mayor’s ‘co-responder’ model

In response to many of the questions from progressive aldermen, Supt. Brown did talk about Lightfoot’s proposed pilot for a “co-responder” model. He said it will be a three-step system.

Step one will focus on getting 911 dispatchers to know when to deploy other agencies – like the Department of Public Health – if the call is related to a mental health issue.

“The first component is to be on the front end when the 911 call comes in and triage those instances when no officer is needed,” Brown said.

Step two is the immediate response to the emergency and step three is following up with additional help and services after the incident, he added.

“I was a little enlightened to hear that…they do want to send out only mental health or other professionals to some calls,” said Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward.

Rodriguez Sanchez said she wants more details about the pilot and worried about how to fund such a program over the long run, not just for one year.

Lightfoot’s administration said the 2021 spending proposal allocates $656,000 to the co-responder model.

Overtime spending, police demographics & difficulties with recruitment

Year-to-date spending on overtime has topped $125 million, though Brown repeatedly stressed that the city was under budget for overtime until the George Floyd-related protests and subsequent civil unrest. Deploying police for the unrest over the summer cost the city $76 million.

Brown said he’s expecting that overtime bill to increase during the upcoming Halloween weekend and next week for Election Day. CPD’s Election Day planning extends to Nov. 9, Brown said, as the department is bracing for potentially more unrest.

Meanwhile, Brown also raised concerns about efforts to diversify the department’s ranks in the future. To date, the demographic breakdown of the department is 46% White, 22% African American, 3% Asian, 26% Hispanic, and 1% other races.

Brown said next year’s budget accounts for three police exams. But he expressed concern that there’s a growing lack of interest to become a police officer among younger generations. He suggested the city expand its recruiting efforts nationwide, including outreach to students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Still, Brown said the COVID-19 pandemic could place a significant strain on the department’s ability to train new officers, as the police academy has to adhere to city and state indoor capacity limits.

At one point, Ald. Marty Quinn, 13th Ward, asked why the academy must adhere to COVID-19 restrictions if police officers are considered “essential.”

Brown, appearing somewhat baffled by the question, responded, “Because we don’t want them to get COVID, alderman!”

Progress on police reforms and body cameras

Following Laquan McDonald’s murder and the ensuing scandal, the CPD entered into a federal court-enforced police reform plan known as a consent decree. But the department has been lagging far behind in making the changes demanded by the agreement.

The lack of progress was a frequent topic during Thursday’s hearing, particularly among freshmen aldermen who asked what’s taking so long.

One big component of the consent decree is a goal that every sworn member of the department be outfitted with a body camera. Brown noted the city’s existing contract with Motorola is set to expire and he plans to aggressively renegotiate the contract to ensure all patrol officers are equipped with a body camera without having to significantly increase the money spent on the technology.

Separately, aldermen also grilled Brown on a working group convened by the city to give input on changes to the department’s use of force policies. After months of work, the department rejected almost all of the recommendations from the group.

During the hearing, Brown suggested there has been a “mischaracterization” of how the department is handling the recommendations. He said a third of them were redundant, a third were in conflict with state law and a “small contingent” of the recommendations were not under the department’s purview.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated comments Supt. David Brown made regarding police reform.

Becky Vevea and Claudia Morell cover city politics for WBEZ. Follow them @beckyvevea and @claudiamorell.