Lightfoot shrank force to help balance budget — but tells new cops she won’t ‘defund police’

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Wednesday’s Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony at Navy Pier was the first since early in the pandemic.
Wednesday’s Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony at Navy Pier was the first since early in the pandemic. | Jason Beeferman/Sun-Times

At a graduation ceremony for police recruits and newly-promoted officers at Navy Pier — the first since early in the pandemic — the mayor acknowledged it’s a “very tough time to be the police.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she will “never yield” to the “loud voices” who want to defund the police because the Chicagoans who make up what Police Supt. David Brown calls the “silent majority” overwhelmingly support the police.

At a graduation ceremony for police recruits and newly-promoted officers at Navy Pier — the first since early in the pandemic — Lightfoot acknowledged it’s a “very tough time to be the police” because of rising homicides, shootings and carjackings, unprecedented scrutiny and an anti-police movement that swept the nation after the death of George Floyd.

But Lightfoot urged the nearly 200 graduates and newly-promoted officers to block out the “loud saying a lot of loud things,” just as she does.

“People need you. People want you — every day. I travel this city from neighborhood-to-neighborhood — all across the city, north and south east and west. And what I hear, what I know from polling that I’ve seen, is the loud voices that are calling for all sorts of things that are untethered from the reality that you face every single day — those are not the majority of voices in this city.

“Our residents are desperate for your help and your support. They want more police — not less police. We are not a city and will never be a city that bows to those arguing for de-funding. That’s not who we are. And that’s not what our residents want.”

Lightfoot told graduates the overwhelming majority of Chicagoans not only want police officers in their neighborhoods. They want to “get to know you as people because they recognize” cops are the “line between them and safety. … Their ability to walk down the street every day and not worry about some danger or threat.”

Last year, however, Lightfoot balanced her pandemic-ravaged budget in part, by eliminating 614 police vacancies, literally shrinking the Chicago Police Department by attrition.

This year, she’s proposing a $189 million increase in police spending — to just under $1.9 billion — in part, by expanding officer wellness programs.

Meanwhile, the tidal wave of police retirements continues with 703 retirements already this year and 987 sworn vacancies.

Several Council members have demanded Lightfoot restore some positions.

But Lightfoot and Budget Director Susie Park have argued CPD will have enough trouble just filling vacancies at a time when declining interest in the policing profession is a national trend.

“Our challenge is not the vacancies. The challenge is, to be blunt, we get butts in seats to take the test. And then, once we get them in the academy, make sure they stay as police officers here in Chicago and not go to the suburbs or other city employment like the fire department,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times editorial board last month.

The mayor’s message about the “silent majority” of Chicagoans who back the police was reinforced by Brown.

“Despite what you may read or hear — particularly on social media—the public by and large has your back. The silent majority of this country’s public has your back,” Brown told graduates. “The community is not your enemy. The community must be your partner.”

Brown said officer wellness is “essential to a strong police department” — which is why he lobbied the mayor for an increase in the once-paltry number of counselors.

“It is OK to say that I need to talk to a peer or professional. It is OK. And we are committed to providing that help that you might need,” the superintendent said.

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October 20, 2021 at 04:09PM

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