Alderman proposes $5-a-month ‘safety and security fee’ to pay for 700 more cops
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org September 21, 2012 12:24AM
12TH WARD ALD. GEORGE CARDENAS FOR THE NEW CITY COUNCIL CHART . | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: October 22, 2012 6:29AM
Chicago should impose a “safety and security fee” — as high as $5 a month on homes and businesses — to generate the $70 million needed to hire 700 additional police officers, an influential alderman said Thursday.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee, said Chicago desperately needs a surge in police hiring to ease a severe manpower shortage that has hamstrung the city’s ability to stop a surge in homicides and shootings.
If a $5 “safety and security fee” was tacked on to the monthly electric bill of Commonwealth Edison’s one million residential and 170,000 business customers and remitted to the city, it would generate the $70 million needed to bolster the force by 700 officers and bolster community policing, Cardenas said.
“I like the specialized units. They serve a special purpose. They’re very good at what they do. Let’s reinstate them without taking beat cops away,” Cardenas said.
The alderman said he has no doubt that Chicago homeowners and businesses would be willing to swallow a $5 monthly fee if it means having safer streets and fewer homicides and shootings.
“I want my kids to go out and play and feel safe. I want to live in a place with peace and tranquility. You can’t put a price on that,” he said.
“I’ve talked to people and they’ve said, ‘If it helps bring the violence down, let’s do it.’ In certain neighborhoods, we need more boots on the ground. Simple as that. I’m not sounding the alarm. I’m just saying in some communities, there’s a fear factor.”
Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields said he would welcome “any new source of revenue” that could be used to bolster a police force that stands at 11,799 after a three-year hiring slowdown.
Through Aug. 15, 420 police officers had retired, but only 127 new officers had been hired, he said.
But, Shields said, “Why is it that we have to go to another source of revenue to pay for these officers? Policing is a basic city service that should be in the budget without a new fee. The mayor eliminated 1,252 police vacancies. The 2012 budget should not have been balanced at the expense of public safety. Those vacancies should have been filled.”
So far this year, there have been 386 homicides and 1,829 shootings incidents in Chicago. That’s up 24.5 and ten percent respectively from the 310 murders and 1,657 shootings by this time last year.
Chicago’s surging homicide rate has become a media obsession both locally and nationally — and a political embarrassment for Emanuel.
The mayor campaigned on a promise to add 1,000 police officers not then on the street, 250 of them newly-hired with funds generated by tax-increment-financing (TIF) districts.
Instead, he has reassigned 1,019 police officers to beat patrol, half of them already on the street in now-disbanded specialized units. The mayor’s first budget was balanced, in part, by eliminating police vacancies.
During the NATO summit, the FOP paid to put up billboards and electronic signs that stated, “Keep Chicago Safe. Hire More Police Officers.”
“There are beat officers who respond to 911 calls but there is no pro-active policing. There isn’t the time of day in between 911 calls,” Shields said Thursday.
“You’ve seen manpower go down and homicides go up. It’s time to get serious about true hiring.”
Sources said the mayor’s 2013 budget will call for the hiring of 500 police officers. But, that’s barely enough to keep pace with attrition.
Cardenas is the aldermen who championed Chicago’s nickel-a-container tax on bottled water.
He also proposed an anti-obesity plan to tax Chicago consumers of soda pop, energy drinks and other sugary beverages anywhere from 15 to 30 cents-a-contain to a penny-an-ounce.
That tax has the potential to trim waistlines and fatten the city’s coffers by $118 million. But, it needs approval from the Illinois General Assembly.