Chicago advances plans for police, fire academy

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Chance the Rapper tells City Council members to reject the proposed first responders academy. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

The city of Chicago is moving ahead with a planned first responders academy despite resident complaints that the $95 million being spent could be better used on education and youth programs, and that a new facility does not guarantee different results with the Chicago Police Department.

Aldermen took the first step toward the academy last week by allocating $10 million for the purchase of the property where the academy will be located. The facility, to be located on the city’s West Side, will be used to train both city police and fire personnel.

Although several residents, including Chance the Rapper, expressed concerns about the city moving forward with the project, only one alderman, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) voted against the land purchase when it came time to vote on the facility.

“Let’s spend that $95 million on opening up mental health clinics. Let’s spend that $95 million on opening schools and providing services. Let’s create youth programs and job programs,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “Of the 99 recommendations that the Justice Department made (to reform the Chicago Police Department), only a few sentences say that we need a new facility. What they say is we need to update (the facilities). No study says that this will lead to an end to police misconduct.”

Ramirez-Rosa said residents have made it clear that programs should be put above a new training facility.

“I am going to stand with the people who came and said we need shootings to end,” the alderman said. “And the best way for that is to invest $95 million in programs, not in giving police officers a swimming pool.”

City officials contend that the facility will better equip police officers and firefighters to handle situations that arise. They note that training is now scattered throughout the city and often done on makeshift equipment.

“Various incidents have occurred over the last few years and have put into stark reality the desperate need to reform our police department, to reform the way policing is done in our neighborhoods,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th). “Far too often our police officers have not been able to respond adequately to people who are in mental crisis. They have not gotten the adequate training to go and do that.

Erika Clark, the parent of a Chicago Public Schools student, said instead of spending money on a first responders academy, the city should help students with those funds. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“Our field officers who are supposed to guide our police officers and new officers need better training. We need to instill new skills in our new police officers and teach them how to respond to incidents of possible violence. We need them to de-escalate rather than go to immediate force.”

Ald. Emma Mitts of the 37th Ward, where the academy will be located, said the project is needed on the West Side.

“I want our young people to work together and understand the police,” Mitts said. “I want Orr High School to interact with the facility. We’re not going to put a facility in the ward and let it sit there. We’re going to take advantage.”

Mitts said that aldermen and residents wanting to see money go elsewhere should first back the first responders academy and then fight for money going to programs and activities.

“You can use your money for a lot of other things,” Mitts told fellow aldermen, “but we still can use the money for a lot of things. Give us $95 million. Come back and give us more. Help with domestic violence. Help with the mentally ill. Don’t close one door. Don’t do that. That’s wrong.”

Chance the Rapper said the city’s proposed actions baffled him.

“What are y’all doing? What are y’all doing?” Chance asked. “It does not make sense.”

Chance said he went to last week’s City Council meeting representing city students, principals, parents and teachers.

He said rather than a pool at the first responders academy, it would be nice if city schools got pools “or a library, a new library or a museum.”

He said that the move to create the academy is not fiscally sound.

“We should understand that financially this proposed plan does not make sense,” Chance said. “We don’t have $95 million.”

He said the $95 million for the academy could go for mental health facilities and schools.

“There is a way to transform the city that does not have to do with police training,” the rapper said.




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