CHICAGO (CBS) — While some aldermen have come out in favor of the “defund the police” movement to shift money away from the Chicago Police Department to fund affordable housing, mental health programs, and other social services, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday it doesn’t need to be “an either/or proposition.”
The mayor said there were similar demands to “defund the police” after the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014, just as there are now in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
“When I hear that here, what I believe what we’re really talking about is what I ran on, and why it’s so important that we follow through on a commitment to the investments in black and brown neighborhoods that haven’t seen any investment, truly, in decades,” she said Tuesday afternoon at City Hall. “What people are saying, I think, is in too many communities across our city, particularly black and brown Chicago, what they see every day is a manifestation of government is the police, what they want to see is a government who responds to the healthcare disparities, the life expectancy disparities. The fact that they can’t walk to the store and get a cup of coffee or a good bag of groceries. That they don’t feel like they’ve got a pipeline to good paying jobs. I agree with that.”
Lightfoot said there has been a concerted effort the past five years in Chicago to reform CPD, and she believes a court-ordered consent decree — mandating sweeping changes to police policies, practices, and training — “has the potential, if we do it right, to be utterly transformative.”
“But even beyond the consent decree there are other things we can and must do,” she said.
Asked if she believes that police would have less crime to deal with if the city spent less on police and more on other social services like mental health programs and education, Lightfoot said “I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition.”
“The investments that we are committed to making in violence reduction, in mental health, in affordable housing and workforce development; we need to make those investments, period, and we’ve committed to that,” she said. “So it’s not, for me, it’s not an either/or proposition. We absolutely have to have reform and accountability of our Police Department, but equally imperative and urgent is the absolute necessity of investing in communities.”
“Public safety is about a heck of a lot more than just cops in a car, walking a beat. It is about building healthy, vibrant, safe neighborhoods, and we have to get there, exactly through the investments that we’re talking about, and when that happens, you see a community reborn,” she added.
Lightfoot said she agrees that police officers shouldn’t have to be the first responders to a mental health crisis, for example.
“So we’re transitioning them away from that. We don’t need them to be the people who are responding to every single social services need. We need the true professionals that are doing that, which is why we need to make these investments that I’ve outlined,” she said.
The mayor also defended her support for proposed legislation to require state licensing of police officers, which she has said could help prevent local departments from hiring officers who face multiple misconduct complaints, but have never been disciplined.
“I do think it’s an idea that we have to give serious consideration. Here’s why: if I go and get my nails done — which I don’t do, you can probably tell — but if I did, the person who is handling my nails is licensed by the state. If I go get a haircut, the barber is licensed by the state. There’s a uniformity in the professionalism and then they have to re-certify themselves on a regular basis,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we have that for police officers? I think it’s an idea that we absolutely must discuss and debate, because it makes sense.”