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Public Safety

Building a Safer Chicago

There is no greater responsibility for any government than ensuring the safety of its constituents. For far too long, for far too many, the City of Chicago has failed to meet this basic need. As an educator and elected official, I’ve known and mourned too many lives cut short by the devastating violence that plagues our city.

As a mother and grandmother, Toni empathizes deeply with the toll and trauma this violence has imposed on generations of families, many of whom have lost multiple loved ones to violence. There is no pain worse than that of a parent forced to bury a child.  

Though none of our city’s communities have been immune, it is no secret that violence has been concentrated in roughly 15 communities, almost exclusively on the south and west side; the same communities struggling with high unemployment, under-resourced or closed schools,  and overall lack of investment. And while the CountyCare program Toni helped create as Cook County Board President has brought unprecedented behavioral and physical health care into our communities, we still face deficits due to years of neglect. The violence, combined with these underlying factors, has contributed to a growing exodus of families from these communities, removing critical economic and social resources, and making the devastating cycle of disinvestment and decline worse.

Even in the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, other types of violent crime, such as armed robbery, assault, and vehicular hijacking, have undermined many resident’s sense of personal safety. If elected, nothing will be more important to my administration than ending fear and restoring safety to all of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Toni's approach to public safety will enhance racial justice and equity. Contrary to what some argue, these goals actually work together. When we over-incarcerate for nonviolent offenses, we destabilize communities, increasing the likelihood for criminality and violence.

That’s why as Cook County Board President, Toni worked with criminal justice stakeholders to reform the practice of keeping people behind bars waiting for trial for minor, non-violent offenses. Those reforms reduced the County jail population by thousands without negatively impacting public safety.  

When we over-incarcerate for nonviolent offenses, we destabilize communities, increasing the likelihood for criminality and violence.

Toni will build upon this work as mayor by focusing on three areas.

First, Toni will take direct ownership of various aspects of the city’s criminal justice and public safety efforts through the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, which will ensure a holistic and collaborative approach to public safety throughout the city.  

Secondly, Toni will work with community stakeholders and the Chicago Police Department to restore trust and accountability between city’s police and the people of Chicago. This means enforcing the consent decree, implementing a system of civilian oversight, and integrating community in every aspect of CPD’s operations, from training to crime prevention.

Thirdly, Toni will ensure that Chicago Police Department strives to become the most effective police department in the country by improving training, supervision, promotion, collaboration and crime-solving capacity within the department and demanding real improvement in homicide clearance and overall crime reduction.

All of these efforts must work in tandem with robust investment in our public schools, our neighborhoods, and our access to mental health services. Our bold agenda on these fronts will be just as critical, if not more so, to the security of our city as the reforms we make to policing. Therefore, as mayor, Toni will see to it that our investments in these key areas match with their value to the public safety of all Chicagoans.

Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice:

As mayor, Toni will create the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (“OCJ”) modeled after a New York office by the same name, which has been successful in reducing crime, especially violent crime, to historic lows, while implementing reforms to decrease unnecessary incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Unlike New York and Los Angeles, Chicago currently only has two full-time personnel on the Mayor’s staff dedicated to the full scope of the city’s public safety concerns. This approach has failed.

The OCJ will oversee various taskforces comprised of city, state, and federal law enforcement, subject experts and community leaders focused on multi-dimensional solutions to critical public safety issues; including: gun violence, vehicular hijacking prevention, witness and victim services, domestic violence, juvenile justice, neighborhood stabilization/wellness, sanctuary, and returning residents.

The OCJ will build on regional criminal justice reforms that prevent crimes before they happen. The most effective public safety programs around the country have demonstrated that criminal justice reform and police reform are not opposing ideas in crime reduction; they are the foundations to achieving it. The more individuals who have positive relationships with law enforcement the safer our neighborhoods will be. At the same time, if fewer non-violent individuals are removed from their community, work and family, our communities will be stronger.

Gun Enforcement

The OCJ will also coordinate our battle against the flow of illegal firearms in Chicago. Every year the Chicago Police Department seizes thousands of illegal guns. Despite these efforts, lax gun laws in border states like Wisconsin, Indiana, and major gun hubs like Mississippi and Georgia, have led to a steady flow of illegally trafficked guns onto Chicago’s streets. Approximately 60% of the illegal guns found by CPD originated out of state.1 As a consequence, in many of Chicago’s neighborhoods, it is easier to a buy an illegal gun than it is to buy fresh produce. Reducing the flow of these guns is a critical component of reducing gun violence in Chicago.

Unfortunately, there are still too many gaps in federal and state gun laws, particularly related to straw purchasers, those who purchase guns legally at retailers or private sellers on behalf of those who are not eligible to legally purchase guns.

Through the OCJ Toni will advocate to strengthen gun laws at the state and federal level. First we will urge Illinois’ Governor to sign Senate Bill 337, which requires Illinois gun dealers to be licensed by the Illinois State Police and increases their responsibilities to restrict straw purchases. Secondly, we will work with the state legislature on legislation that lowers the burden of proof for straw purchases, preventing guns from ending up in the hands of those prohibited from owning guns.  

Finally, the OCJ will convene a taskforce of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to better share information and coordinate operations to disrupt trafficking networks. We believe that this new level of coordination with state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Attorney’s office, will lead to an increase in federal gun prosecutions for the most prolific gun traffickers targeting the Chicago area. This must also include asking Attorney General Kwame Raoul, given his strong record opposing gun violence, to file a lawsuit against the State of Indiana, stopping the source of the overwhelming majority of the crime guns recovered by the Chicago police. Indiana must take steps to better regulate gun sales or face direct economic consequences.

Interrupting Violence in our Communities:

As Mayor, Toni will utilize the newly established Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to ensure that Chicago’s public safety plan includes strategic leadership, coordination, and the implementation of a comprehensive set of violence reduction strategies and interventions.The integration of community based intervention programs proven to reduce violence must be part of our efforts to achieve a sustainable reduction in violence across the city.

From the promising approaches used by Cure Violence, to the Institute of Non-Violence, Heartland Alliance and Readi Chicago, we have examples and lessons learned that we must draw from and invest in. The interruption of violence at its source by providing real time outreach services to those at highest risk has been proven to work not only in Chicago but in cities like Boston and Oakland.

Community-based programs such as these leverage the value of individuals trained in conflict resolution, who can serve as credible messengers to engage people involved in violent behavior to encourage and empower them to join the legal economy. These efforts go hand in hand with consistent one-on-one engagement, cognitive behavioral therapy and case management services including employment and supportive services.

We need a strategic and coordinated alignment of community resources combined with and expansion and replication of proven models to stop violence before it starts in Chicago while restoring trust between CPD and communities.

The integration of community based intervention programs proven to reduce violence must be part of our efforts to achieve a sustainable reduction in violence across the city.

Rebuilding Trust Between the Police and the Community

Nothing is more critical to keeping Chicago safe than restoring the trust between CPD and the residents it serves.

A lack of accountability and an inability to develop strong relationships in Chicago’s communities are leading factors in CPD being one of the least effective large police forces in the United States. Chicago will not control its violence problem unless this changes.  

For decades, the Chicago Police Department has engaged in policies and practices that have undermined its relationship with Chicago residents, particularly those in Black and Latinx communities. Many of these violations have been well documented - from Commander Jon Burge’s systemic torture of black residents to Detective Reynaldo Guevara and Sergeant Ronald Watt’s fabrication of evidence. Countless other incidents have never seen the light of day.   

The reputation and effectiveness of CPD’s dedicated, law-abiding officers have been damaged by a culture of silence and lying that has protected and enabled bad actors and tainted the entire police department. Likewise efforts at community policing have been stunted by inconsistent and harsh engagement on the beat combined with a lack of accountability for those officers routinely tagged with civilian complaints.2  

The first step to improving relations between CPD and the residents of Chicago is the acknowledgement of the CPD’s history of abuses by some of its officers and real accountability for all those who have violated their oaths to protect and serve. It was in this vein that as Cook County Board President, Toni used power of my office to make public the medical examiner’s reporter to bring to light the murder of Laquan McDonald by sixteen shots from Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, in direct contrast to the self-defense narrative being argued by City officials.  

As a consequence of the courageous protests of those demanding justice for McDonald, several important reforms have already been implemented from the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to the expansion of body cameras across the force. Additionally the exposure of McDonald’s murder spurred the creation of a report by President Obama’s Department of Justice (“DOJ”), that confirmed and catalogued the history of the Chicago Police Department’s shortcomings, while also making a number of recommendations for improving the department.3  

The DOJ report led to a consent decree, negotiated by the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the City of Chicago, and several criminal and racial justice organizations. As mayor, Toni will ensure that the Chicago Police Department fully complies with the mandates of the consent decree, while also implementing additional reforms raised in the DOJ and by other policing experts and Chicago residents, including civilian oversight.  

Civilian Oversight of Chicago Police Department:  

The Chicago Police Department plays a major role in the lives of Chicago’s residents and the city overall. In many of our city’s neighborhoods, particularly those experiencing high rates of violent crime, police are a constant presence. While many residents welcome officers into their neighborhoods to make them safer, too many view the police with uncertainty about their intentions and their impact on the community.  

A major factor in this lack of trust has been the lack of transparency in the Chicago Police Department’s decision-making. Chicago’s residents have had little opportunity to impact Chicago’s policing policy or even suggest basic reforms.

As a result, Chicago’s crime, especially its violent crime, continues to far outpace comparable big cities, while its police department remains simultaneously ineffective at solving violent crime and highly prone to severe and even lethal police misconduct. What’s worse is that taxpayers have paid dearly for this failure; both in terms of the general fund, 40% of which goes to policing, and in terms of the hundreds of millions of dollars in police misconduct settlements over the last decade alone.

Chicago cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results. That is why Toni believes it is time to turn oversight of the Chicago Police Department over to the people most affected; the residents of our city. As mayor, Toni will support the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability’s proposal to create the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to oversee accountability at the Chicago Police Department.

This seven member Commission would have the authority to appoint the Chicago Police Board, the Chief Administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (“COPA”) and recommend candidates for Superintendent for approval of the Mayor. The Commission would also take the lead in setting policy and strategy in collaboration with CPD leadership and the community it represents.

These advisory councils would be democratically elected at the police district level in much the same way as Local School Councils. Members of the District Council would be tasked with selecting the most qualified and able commissioners that understand both policing and community needs, as well as keeping community residents informed and involved in policing policy and practice.

Furthermore, expert opinion will no longer be put over community insight. This has too often led to ineffective and unconstitutional policing strategies like stop and frisk. The reality is that the performance of Chicago Police Department over recent years has proven that expert-driven strategy without community buy-in or collaboration yields poor performance.

As mayor, Toni will be accountable for the public safety of Chicago, and through the OCJ Toni will drive much needed reforms on various fronts of the battle against crime. But ultimately, the people of Chicago have the most to gain from a more effective and more constitutional police department. After years of failure by appointed leadership in reforming and improving CPD, civilian leadership deserves an opportunity.

Chicago cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results.

End the Code of Silence:

Even with a new accountability system in place, we cannot build a more accountable police force without acknowledging the prevalent code of silence in CPD.

When Toni is mayor, ending both the code of silence and outright lying that occurs amongst CPD officers will be of the highest priority.

This issue is so important that as mayor, Toni will ensure that CPD’s leadership acknowledges this code of silence and actively works to root it out. Lying by police officers erodes the legitimacy and effectiveness of CPD’s crime-fighting efforts, allows bad cops to violate their oath with impunity, and ultimately leads to costly lawsuits and overturned convictions. For example, 18 convictions have recently been overturned based on the systemic fabrication of evidence and testimony by the corrupt Detective Reynaldo Guevara and Sergeant Ronald Watts. Lies by CPD officers also delayed justice for Laquan McDonald and his family. There must be zero tolerance moving forward for lying. Officers caught violating CPD’s existing Rule 14, which prohibits lying, should be removed from the force.     

When Toni is mayor, ending both the code of silence and outright lying that occurs amongst CPD officers will be of the highest priority

Invest More in CAPS program:

As mayor, Toni will advocate for more resources for the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy or  CAPS, which is CPD’s primary community policing program. The foundation of the CAPS program is the beat meeting where community residents and beat officers meet to discuss neighborhood crime issues and form strategies to solve them.  

However, given the importance of community policing, CAPS would benefit from more staff to expand programing within communities beyond the beat meetings. This ensures that beat officers are using every opportunity to interact with community residents face to face. CAPS staff could facilitate more community-led training and educational programming for officers involving more segments of the community, especially younger residents unlikely to attend a beat meeting but more likely to have interaction with police officers out on the beat. CAPS budget has actually decreased since the late 1990s, but the need is greater now more than ever. As mayor, Toni will ensure that need is met.

End the Gang Database:  

While accurate crime data gathering is important, the Gang Database currently has no consistent guidelines or approval requirements for adding someone, as well as no notification or appeal processes for individuals added erroneously. Not only can it be used to unjustly harass and detain people, but CPD provides this often incorrect information to third parties, including U.S. Immigrations and Customs (ICE). As a result, the false gang designations can affect an individual’s ability to get employment, licenses, bond, parole, housing, immigration relief, and more. This approach makes it more difficult to hone in on actual criminals and encourages entire communities to avoid any and all contact with police.

As mayor, Toni would support ending the widespread use of the inaccurate, racially discriminatory Gang Database, which allows CPD’s unlimited discretion to criminalize over 128,000 largely Black and Latinx individuals.

Creating a More Effective Police Force

Chicago has the most police per capita of any American city with a population over one million people. Despite more law enforcement manpower than other similarly sized cities, Chicago has led the nation in total number of murders since 2012. This isn’t merely a function of Chicago’s size. Chicago also has the highest murder rate of any city with a population of over a million. In 2016 and 2017, Chicago had more murders and shootings than New York and Los Angeles combined.4  

Given that most of the city’s violence is concentrated in 15 communities, the reality for the residents of these communities is even worse than the numbers suggest. In these communities, murderers kill with impunity and commit murders at rates approaching some of the most violent countries in the world.

As mayor, Toni is committed to taking a holistic approach that centers on critical and intentional investments in Chicago’s residents and its communities to help stabilize struggling communities. A strategy solely focused on law enforcement is destined to fail. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Chicago must get better returns on public safety from its investment in policing.

Restoring trust between community and police through accountability and training reforms will go a long way to improving the effectiveness of the Chicago Police Department. However, additional reforms are needed to ensure CPD has the right people engaged in the right activities to prevent crime and hold offenders accountable. Before we invest more resources, we must ensure all internal procedures and processes are based on best practices for reducing crime. In a period where many of our peer cities are seeing record declines in the crime and violence, there are best practice to be pursued. As mayor, Toni will make sure that they are.

As mayor, Toni is committed to taking a holistic approach that centers on critical and intentional investments in Chicago’s residents and its communities to help stabilize struggling communities.

Community-Based Culturally Competent Training:

One of the most glaring findings in the DOJ report was how poorly CPD officers are trained and understaffed, attempting to do the job with outdated and at times contradictory policies, specifically around force. In fact, the DOJ found that, when interviewed, only one in six recent academy graduates could accurately describe CPD’s current use of force policy.5  

As mayor, Toni will ensure that in accordance with the consent decree, CPD conducts a complete upgrading of training materials, methods and field training supervision. Toni will also support increases to the number of mandatory in-service training hours. Additionally, Toni will call for CPD to ensure that each level of training includes interaction with the communities that an officer serves.

Training should facilitate interaction with community youth, leaders and organizations so officers are equipped for proper procedure and skills. But officers must also be equipped with cultural competency. Understanding the history, culture, opportunities and challenges within communities will give officers a much better chance of developing the respect and relationships that are the foundation of community policing. As mayor, Toni will work with the stakeholders within law enforcement, our accountability system, and our communities to facilitate and integrate community-driven content in all CPD training.

Finally, as mayor, Toni will put a freeze on the construction of the proposed $95 million police and fire training academy until further review. Not only is it good practice to review all major infrastructure investments as Toni did when she was first elected County Board President, but Toni wants to ensure that when it comes to overhauling police training, our highest priority is curriculum and content, not buildings and amenities.  

Improving Supervision:

The DOJ report was clear that CPD has major weaknesses in its supervision structure from the pre-service academy to the end of an officer’s career. The DOJ report notes that supervisors, especially sergeants, receive inadequate training and supervision themselves. At the same time, sergeants themselves are not held accountable for proactively managing and holding officers under their supervision accountable. The DOJ found that supervisors were also organized in such a way that they were not always supervising the same officers, preventing from them for truly learning which officers needed development and training and in what areas. The consent decree will help address some of these problems by mandating a ratio of one sergeant for every 10 officers and that each officer has a consistent sergeant.

The consent decree will also help create a new culture within CPD that prioritizes supervision as a means of ensuring officers are in compliance with the mandates of constitutional and effective policing.

The consent decree will help address some of these problems by mandating a ratio of one sergeant for every 10 officers and that each officer has a consistent sergeant.

Promoting for Performance:

The DOJ and the consent decree are also clear that CPD’s promotion process must be revamped. Moving forward the monitor of the consent decree will assess the fairness and transparency of CPD’s promotions. The CPD will also be required to show evidence of its commitment to more diverse hiring and promotion. This is a critical component to having a police department that can relate to the entire city.  

But beyond the consent decree, other changes to the promotion process are needed. We must ensure promotions are based on merit and not on relationships. Supervisors promoted based on relationships are more prone to turn a blind eye to problem officers who work in these high-crime areas and leads to a heavy-handed approach in our neighborhoods.

Instead of being flagged for review, these officers are often promoted for their activity records despite the collateral damage; poor community relations and excessive use of force leading to severe harm or death, at worst. These officers actions have resulted in the multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded police misconduct settlements that starve our city and communities of precious resources while doing little to reduce crime.  

As mayor, Toni will see that the right officers are promoted in our city. That means the officers with strong records of proactive crime-fighting, a stellar complaint records, and a history of strong community engagement set the tone for the entire department.

Restore Beat Integrity:

Beat integrity is essential to facilitating consistent, positive interaction between CPD officers and the community. Beat officers should work the same beat, on foot patrol, as much as possible, to build a stronger relationship with community members. Maintaining beat integrity will put officers in position to disrupt crime before it happens in neighborhoods that they know.  

Improving Detective Capacity and Performance:

Given the horribly low homicide clearance rates in Chicago, it is critical that we ensure that CPD’s detective unit performs effectively. As mayor, Toni will encourage CPD leadership to consider a wide range of reforms that both increase detective's ability to do their jobs and that put them in closer relationship to officers on the beat.

We must increase the number of personnel dedicated to looking at raw physical data involved with homicides. With additional resources, detectives could spend more time with officers on the beat, developing their own relationships with communities prior to shooting and homicide events. These relationships will allow CPD detectives to build trust before they need it. Finally, as mayor, Toni will encourage the entire CPD and detectives especially, to improve collaboration with prosecutors at the State’s Attorney Office; bringing them in earlier to ensure that the strongest cases are built.  

Prioritizing Mental Health:

The consent decree calls for significantly increasing the mental health training received by CPD officers and better tracking of the number of mental health related response calls. Tracking will allow CPD to better estimate how many crisis-intervention trained officers it needs to meet the demand for these particularly sensitive calls. Over the years, a number of the most tragic cases regarding excessive use of force by CPD have involved individuals suffering with mental illness. The consent decree’s mandates are designed to improve CPD officers’ ability to safely de-escalate situations involving the mentally ill to prevent unnecessary harm. That said, CPD officers will never be fully-trained mental health professionals. 

The CPD should not be the city’s primary first responders to mental illness, and when Toni is mayor, they will have support from the professionals most adept at dealing with these cases.

As mayor, Toni will ensure that trained mental health professionals, in collaboration with the city’s Department of Public Health and Office of Emergency Management, work with and in some cases lead, the response to mental health crisis cases.