Chicago, IL

Chicago Alderman Don’t Want Relief Money Paid to Police to Decrease Violence

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Community leaders say there must be a better way to decrease Chicago violence than paying the police more.

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At a virtual hearing Chicago Alderman made it clear that they didn’t want any of the COVID-19 relief money that was sent to Illinois going to increase police salaries as a means of lowering gang violence in the city.

In February, Chicago alderman blasted the Mayor Lori Lightfoot for using federal coronavirus relief funds to pay for more overtime for police officers instead of using it for needed housing relief, business support and social methods of violence prevention. They expressed their frustration over the unilateral decision made by the mayor to prioritize the police department over other needs. Over $281 million was allocated to the Chicago Police Department, the majority to pay for overtime hours. The aldermen were also angry over how much of that money was never even spent.

“And just as egregious, we learned that $68 million of that funding was never spent at all,” Ald. Daniel La Spata of the 1st Ward, said.

There was also criticism as the amount spent on Chicago police amounted to over 60 percent of the $480 million in discretionary funds received from through the CARES Act.

This criticism was validated in a report published by Chicago CRED (Created Real Economic Destiny) in mid-October, which stated that a new approach is needed to achieve public safety on the South and West sides.

The Reimagining Public Safety report, released by Chicago CRED, stated that the violent crime frequenting parts of the South and West sides of the city is a symptom of deeper social issues that cannot be policed away. The report was in line with the results of a city budget survey that found 85 percent of respondents supported funding social services and other programs by shifting money out of the police budget.

City aldermen don’t want to see a replay of how last year’s relief money was allocated with the new funds being sent to Chicago. During this week’s meeting, they heard from several advocates about how social services can have an impact on decreasing the high rates of violence and crime in various Chicago neighborhoods.

JiTu Brown, head of the Journey for Justice Alliance, spoke about how joblessness and a lack of mental health services set the stage for street violence.

"These children that are carjacking now, are the children of privatization, they are the children of school closings, they are the children of inequity over the last 10 years," Brown said.

These assertions have been strongly supported by scientific research. Poverty, racism, maltreatment, trauma, and educational neglect have been shown to trigger violence. In particular, it’s been shown that in Chicago violence surges following school, mental health and social service cutbacks.

Violence prevention has been shown to be most successful when it occurs through relationship-focused services and equality-focused policies not police enforcement.

Furthermore, in a study examining employment, poverty and crime, analyses indicated that while both employment status and poverty contribute to violent criminal activity, joblessness has a stronger effect on violent crime than poverty. Other research has demonstrated that approaching violence as a health problem and treating it using health related methods to change behavior and norms to reduce it’s spread have shown strong evidence of effectiveness among individuals and communities.

Ric Estrada, CEO of Metropolitan Family Services, said money from the federal relief funds allocated to Chicago could help correct some of these problems seen to contribute to street violence in Chicago and the country at large.

"We have an opportunity to make a generational change. We have an opportunity with resources coming to the City of Chicago, the county of Cook, the State of Illinois, and our country in general," Estrada said.

In response to those who testified, several aldermen expressed their support of what they’d heard as well as opposition to allowing new federal relief funds to be used for additional funds for police. But Norman Kerr, acting Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, assured them that the focus for this money is on the community.

"We've been working across our departments as well to maximize the opportunities we offer to youth this summer and supporting city and community organizations," Kerr said.

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