Mayor Lori Lightfoot is defending her decision to spend $281.5 million in federal dollars on the police payroll, much more than any other city department received from the funding. Lightfoot, during a press conference, called the criticism of her spending “dumb” because of the unforeseen issues associated with the pandemic.
“Criticism comes with the job of mayor, but this one’s just dumb,” Lightfoot said. “And here’s why: We had this once-in-a-lifetime experience of COVID-19. It was not part of our budgeting that was passed in the fall of 2019 because we didn’t understand that we were gonna be facing the kind of pandemic and challenges that we faced. So, the federal government came to cities like Chicago and said, ‘We will provide you with reimbursable funds for monies that were spent in regard to COVID-19.’ So, we saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by saying ‘yes’ to the federal government.”
Comparatively, the Department of Public Health received just over $18 million; the Office of Emergency Management received just over $8 million; the Department of Family and Support Services got less than $200,000. The Office for People with Disabilities got only $2,000. Additionally, $68 million went unspent, leading to additional questions regarding where those funds could have potentially gone.
Lightfoot announced on March 30, 2020, that the Department of Housing would fund 2,000 grants with $2 million from the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, but the overwhelming demand for the grants means that fewer than 2.5 percent of applicants were able to get the funds.
Data released by the Department of Housing show applications came from all over the city, with no more than 3 percent of applications coming from a single ward. The 12th, 16th, 28th and 37th wards on Chicago’s South and West sides submitted the highest number of applications, according to city data.
Activists argue that much of the $280-plus million spent on the police payroll and $68 million that went unspent could have gone to much more helpful programs and initiatives during this trying time for many in the city.
“This money could have gone to rental relief for the thousands of residents facing evictions, to small businesses struggling to stay afloat, or to rebuilding public health services,” a United Working Families statement read. “Instead, it went to a police department that already monopolizes 40 percent of the city’s operating budget at the expense of other badly needed community services.”
David Zoltan, of the Chicago Housing Justice League, released an estimate that rent debt in Chicago was as much as $450 million as of January, and that the $280-plus million given to CPD from the CARES Act could have covered at least 157,865 months of rental debt for Chicagoans.
Additionally, following the report of the budgeting controversy, a report by the Office of the Inspector General concluded that the Chicago Police Department’s response to the protests after the killing of George Floyd was mismanaged.
“The only way is to abolish the police, that’s the only way,” Jalen Kobayashi of GoodKids MadCity said. “The longer we continue to look back at something – it’s not ‘could’ve, would’ve, should’ve’ there is nothing you could have done. They are an extension of the state, they are an extension of white supremacy. The Inspector General may be surprised, but I’m not surprised – I was there.”
Two incidents are also mentioned, with the first being from the May 31 protest, in which Kenwood resident and Police Board President Ghian Foreman was struck in the legs with a baton by a police officer. The OIG report found that there were only 30 Tactical Response Reports filed during the period of civil unrest in which police said they had used a baton, but eyewitness reports and video evidence suggests that there were far more instances of baton usage.
The other being an incident in which officers were seen inside of Rep. Bobby Rush’s campaign office during unrest in the surrounding neighborhood.
Other points in the report detail the decision to raise bridges and bypass downtown CTA stops, an effort one officer specifically pointed out had the goal of stopping people from coming from the city’s South Side as a goal. Mayor Lightfoot did not appear to second guess this decision in a statement Friday, date.
“What we were trying to do is, make sure that police could adequately respond to this massive crowd – and the violence that was happening,” Lightfoot said. “Raising bridges was absolutely the right decision.”