U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García released a public safety plan for Chicago on Friday, his first comprehensive set of campaign promises in his bid to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the Feb. 28 election.
Repeating calls from other challengers, García said Chicago police Supt. David Brown should be fired and criticized him as an ineffective leader. He vowed to shift resources from citywide units to patrol teams in the neighborhoods, as well as fill administrative positions with civilians and keep sworn personnel working on the streets.
García also said he would designate non-law enforcement teams for mental health crises, establish an office of violence reduction and prioritize street outreach programs in the 15 most violent neighborhoods.
The congressman’s newest promises come as concerns over violence continue to permeate the race. That focus follows a crime spike in 2021 that reached levels unseen since the 1990s before steadily decreasing last year — though rates are still higher than when Lightfoot first took office.
“I’m not going to sit back and watch Chicago fail because of incompetent leadership. … I endorsed (Lightfoot four years ago), but when she failed, instead of doing what a leader does — taking responsibility and solving problems — she dug in,” he said in an afternoon speech to City Club of Chicago unveiling his platform.
Garcia says his plan starts with fully staffing the Chicago Police Department, which has been a struggle in recent years, exacerbated by pandemic-era departures: “We need to deal with how best to train and support police and hold police accountable, but we cannot keep our city safe without them.”
“As much as rogue cops need accountability, good cops deserve respect,” he said later. “We cannot treat them like the enemy and expect things to get better.”
He acknowledged that his “decades as a community activist” might make people surprised to hear him now “supporting and hiring police officers.”
“… But building a violence prevention programs in Little Village was only possible by having an understanding with police,” he said.
Lightfoot has maintained that fears are overblown by “haters,” stating in a recent ad that she has a holistic plan to deal with crime. Her campaign has touted accomplishes such as Chicago police removing more than 12,000 illegal guns of the street last year, increasing funding for anti-violence projects as well as services for domestic violence and trafficking victims and suing out-of-state gun suppliers.
Lightfoot has also sought to blame the Cook County courts and top prosecutor Kim Foxx for what Lightfoot has said is a revolving door of violent offenders who are let out on pretrial release, to the ire of some criminal justice reform advocates.
García homed in on the mayor’s “haters” rhetoric, saying “that’s what she calls everyone who does not think (she’s) doing all she can to make us safe. She’s not serious. I am serious.”
García is one of the last of nine candidates in the mayor’s race to release a public safety platform. Last May, state Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner vowed to make filling Chicago police vacancies and beefing up the homicide detective force his first priority, while underscoring “we can do both” when it comes to investing in policing and alternative solutions to crime.
Community activist Ja’Mal Green, who has frequently protested Chicago police and advocated for reallocating their budget, focused less on law enforcement tactics in his plan. He proposed a “youth intervention department” to mentor those 25 and under who are struggling with criminal or behavioral issues. Regarding the police department, Green said he would give further support to an apprenticeship program for youth 13 and up and ease the background check process for recruits. He would also require officers to carry liability insurance for misconduct litigation and abolish the gang database.
Ald. Sophia King, 4th, promised to set up a “reserve” of 1,000 retired police officers to focus on less dangerous duties. Often repeating it is a “false choice” that Chicago can’t have both safety and justice, King called for adding 200 detectives while also paying high-risk Chicagoans $600 a week to participate in intervention programs.
Former Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas’ plan includes inviting officers who left the police department in the last three years to come back with no loss in seniority, loosening the background check process and, most notably, not requiring that new recruits live within city limits until the end of their 18-month probationary period. He has vowed in a campaign video that he would not participate in “scapegoating (police) for political expediency.”
He also released a video on how he would work with — or, rather, against — Foxx. Vallas said he wants to “bypass Kim Foxx altogether” and work with the U.S. attorney’s office or go directly to the judge to bring charges.
Another City Council member seeking the mayor’s office, the 6th Ward’s Ald. Roderick Sawyer, said he would allow Chicago police officers to retire with a full pension after 20 years. He promised to ask the federal government to assign their own police to the city’s airports so that those couple hundred Chicago police officers can be reassigned to patrol the CTA. Sawyer joined King and others in calling for the rehiring of retired officers, but only for administrative work or to respond when the victim is safe and the crime is over.
Willie Wilson, a businessman, released a plan that includes dividing the city into four police districts, each with their own superintendents of police, giving officers a pay raise and a housing allowance, bringing back retired police and dedicating a 300-officer force as well as a conductor on every train in the CTA.
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson has not released a full safety plan yet but his campaign said it is forthcoming. His campaign website’s public safety section notes Chicago needs “real investments in root cause solutions” and calls for creating an Office of Gun Violence Prevention, reopening the city’s shuttered mental health clinics and funding youth employment.