Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled her budget proposal for FY 2022 on Wednesday, and even amid ongoing conflict between her administration and the union that represents the officers of the Chicago Police Department, she says that there is “no question” that the department’s budget will be beefed up in the coming year.
Lightfoot made the comments amid increases in gun violence in the city of Chicago, which along with mass retirements and recruitment difficulties on the police force have caused many in the city to raise alarm bells about the situation.
“It is my expectation that the police department budget will increase. No question,” the mayor said. “We have to make sure that we are continuing to provide resources to recruit the next generation of police officers, and to make sure that we’re doing that recruitment in a way that reflects the diversity of our city.”
The comments on the police budget come as her relationship with rank-and-file officers is once again squarely in the spotlight. After Saturday's shooting that left 29-year-old police officer Ella French dead and her partner critically injured, Lightfoot went to the hospital to visit with the injured officer and with family members.
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During that visit, Chicago Ald. Ray Lopez, who represents the 15th Ward, which borders the community where French was shot and killed, posted a photo to Facebook showing several officers at the hospital, with their backs facing the camera.
"They turned their back to the mayor just as she has turned her back on the rank and file time and time again," he wrote.
Lightfoot was asked about the moment during her budget press conference Wednesday, where she said "there was a lot of emotion running that night."
"There were hundreds of officers who were there and I met and talked to many of them," Lightfoot said. "And there was a lot of emotion from a range of the spectrum from total despair, to anger and rage and kind of everything in between - and that's to be expected. So it's a really hard loss."
Lightfoot has also had several public disagreements with FOP leader John Catanzara, who has been an outspoken critic of the mayor's policies.
The police union president and mayor have often found themselves at odds on a number of issues including strategies to reduce violence citywide, police contract negotiations and logistical changes within the department.
Rank-and-file officers issued a no-confidence vote against Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown in May, citing reasons including exhaustion and the department's decision to cancel days off on multiple occasions, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Even amid that public acrimony, Lightfoot still was adamant about putting more funding behind the department.
They mayor hopes the increased budget will be used to recruit officers from across the country, and to “mine opportunities” in the city of Chicago itself as part of an effort to bolster the department’s ranks.
The mayor said that the budget will also include funding for programs designed to help officers with their mental and physical well-being.
“We increased the number of clinicians that work with our officers from a paltry three to over 13,” she said. “But it’s very clear that more work needs to be done. Overall, I will present a budget to the City Council that increases resources targeted and strategic for the police department, because their needs are absolutely there.”
Lightfoot also addressed a new contract that was recently agreed upon between the city and the police union. The new pact will run for eight years, according to Lightfoot, and will cover the four years that elapsed after the previous contract expired.
“This contract was structured in a financially-prudent way, and provides cost certainty for the city through 2024,” Lightfoot said.
In 2021, the contract will be largely funded through savings gleaned from a refinancing of debt at lower interest rates, according to the mayor.
The mayor also said that the city will continue to invest in “co-responder” programs that pair officers with social service providers. Other programs will also be implemented under the proposed budget, including a program that will bring in clinicians and experts to assist on mental health and opioid overdose calls.
Lightfoot was critical of the “divisive rhetoric and debate” that she says heated up after Officer Ella French was shot and killed over the weekend.
“Some say that we do not do enough for the police. That we don’t respect them, and that we’re handcuffing them from doing their jobs,” Lightfoot said, referencing comments made by Chicago Ald. Ray Lopez, who said that officers are too “timid” when responding to calls because of fears of being disciplined. “Others say we do too much for the police, and that we never hold them accountable for what they do.
“Stop. All of you. All of us. Just stop,” she added.
Lightfoot says that an all-hands-on-deck approach is key, urging community members to support police and urging police officers to agree to reform efforts that will help strengthen the relationship between the force and the city’s residents.
“To paraphrase the great poet Robert Frost, the only way forward is through,” she said. “And in this moment, the only way through is together.”