Real Public Safety Means Investment in Our Communities
Over the past decade, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) has held critical conversations with tens of thousands of local community members to help shape a vision of what real public safety could look like in our own neighborhoods, on our own terms.
Through these powerful exchanges, Chicago residents have resoundingly articulated a shared belief that true neighborhood safety cannot be achieved through increased funding to law enforcement, but rather through investment in public services - such as affordable housing, mental health resources, and youth programs - that foster equity and opportunity for all.
Chicago Police Spending Trumps That of Other Major U.S. Cities
Despite a steady decrease in overall crime rates over the past three decades, Chicago has continued to increase funding to law enforcement, year after year. Adjusting for inflation, the city's per capita spending on police has nearly tripled since 1964.
Chicago funds more officers per capita than any other major municipality in the nation, and its per capita police spending is 42% higher than the national average among large cities.
Increased Funding to the Police Does Not Promote Public Safety
Over the course of the past four decades, as the city increased public spending on law enforcement, CPD’s performance rates plummeted well below national averages.
Chicago's crime rates exceed those of other large cities that spend far less on law enforcement. Moreover, the department's crime clearance rates are significantly lower than that of other large police agencies.
CPD Targets Vulnerable Communities, Not Violent Crime
CPD leadership routinely justifies the department’s bloated budget as an imperative to counter violent crime in the city. However, in reality, the overwhelming majority of officer’s day-to-day police work centers on arresting and charging residents for low level offenses.
In 2021, nearly two thirds of all CPD arrests were for low-level misdemeanor violations or municipal infractions, the nature of which range from littering, to curfew violations, to minor drug possession. Only 14% of CPD arrests were related to charges for high level felony offenses.
This draconian approach to policing offers no positive outcomes for public safety, and disproportionately harms Black Chicagoans, as well as residents impacted by poverty and mental illness.
Police Spending Draws Resources Away from Vital City Services
In 2021, Chicago’s spending on law enforcement exceeded $1.6 billion and accounted for nearly 40% of the annual operating budget.
Exorbitant spending on law enforcement draws public resources away from vitally needed public safety services, such as mental health, social services, and youth programs. This reckless misuse of taxpayer dollars perpetuates austerity conditions which, in turn, exacerbate structural inequality and erode public safety.
Most 911 Calls Do Not Require Armed Law Enforcement
In 2019, Chicago's Office of Emergency Management fielded an average of 3,651 police dispatch calls per day. Despite the high volume of police service requests, the city reported a daily average of only 70 incidents of violent crime. This discrepancy indicates that the overwhelming majority of 911 police dispatch calls pertain to situations outside of the purview of armed law enforcement.
Hundreds of daily 911 dispatch calls do not pertain to imminent violent crime, but rather reflect unmet human or public service needs. Armed police officers are often less effective in addressing such circumstances, and can escalate public safety crises.
Chicagoans are Ready for a More Humane and Effective Approach
Chicagoans agree that in order to make our city truly safe, lawmakers must confront the root causes of inequality and invest in programs that foster opportunity and justice for all - including housing, public health, family support, and youth engagement.
According to Mayor Lightfoot’s 2020 survey of more than 38,000 city residents, 87% of Chicagoans support cuts to the Chicago Police Department’s excessive budget and favor a reallocation of those funds into social safety net programs.
Our Proposal for Equitable Public Safety Reinvestment
Guided by community perspectives and a wide range of municipal data, WCRJ has crafted an informed and strategic policy proposal to promote equitable public safety in Chicago.
The three year plan calls for phased funding reductions to the Chicago Police Department, as well as a series of annual budget increases to vital social services and public health programs. The proposal also provides for a newly established Community Safety Unit to provide residents with emergency public safety dispatch services, outside of law enforcement.
In the weeks and months ahead, WCRJ will work to leverage the collective power of community behind this achievable plan to build truly safe and free neighborhoods through fair and inclusive reinvestment.
Details on the proposal are outlined in the document below.