For the first time in more than a year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot sat down for a 1-on-1 interview with NBC 5 Political Reporter Mary Ann Ahern, and during that conversation she defended her administration’s decision to impose a curfew at Millennium Park, as well as her handling of upticks in crime in different parts of the city.
That new curfew, which restricts unaccompanied minors in Millennium Park after 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays, has been met with criticism that it is too heavy-handed, something that Lightfoot dismissed.
“’Why is she doing this, why would she do this, what is her authority,’” Lightfoot said about the critiques she’s heard. “Doing nothing is simply not an option.”
Lightfoot says that private security will be first in line to enforce the new restrictions, which were put into effect after a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed during a massive gathering of teens in the park on Saturday.
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“They’re going to be the folks on the front line,” she said. “Obviously, there are officers that are already assigned to the 1st and 18th districts if there is a need for their services (as well).”
The Millennium Park shooting underscores a growing challenge to Lightfoot’s administration, as gun violence dominates the headlines and the public consciousness.
Over the weekend, there were at least 33 people shot in the city of Chicago, and five of those individuals died.
When asked about clearance numbers in murder cases, Lightfoot defended her record.
“In 2021, we solved more murders in that one year than in the previous 19 years,” she said. “We’ve been following the same protocols that the FBI has put into place.”
Lightfoot also dismissed the characterization of a “spike” in downtown crimes, but says that her administration is working to address an increase in those types of incidents.
“They have been up,” she said. “We’ve been very focused on making sure that we get those numbers down.”
Part of the challenge that Lightfoot has faced has been a rash of retirements and resignations within the department. It is estimated that there are 2,000 fewer police officers now than there were when Lightfoot was sworn into office three years ago, something the mayor says she is working to address.
“Through the pandemic, particularly in 2020, we weren’t able to put in place classes because of COVID restrictions, but we’ve significantly upped our recruitment efforts,” she said.
Even amidst all those challenges, Lightfoot says that she is grateful for the role she has been elected to, and although she has not officially announced her candidacy for reelection, she says that she is extremely motivated to remain in the job.
“I feel like I’ve been given the gift of a lifetime,” she said. “Every single day I get to work with tremendous people in city government, and outside of city government, to solve real problems for our residents.”