Plan for $95 million police and fire academy moves forward
November 30, 2017

The new facility will allow for both indoor and outdoor training, diversifying training beyond what the Chicago Police and Fire Departments currently have at their 40-year-old facilities.

By Madeline Makoul

In an effort to improve training and promote economic development, the City is moving forward with a plan for a new $95 million combined police and fire training academy.

The new Police Safety Training Academy, proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been a longstanding goal for the mayor, said  Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer for the Chicago Police Department (CPD). The new facility will allow for both indoor and outdoor training, diversifying training beyond what the Chicago Police and Chicago Fire Department (CFD) currently have at their 40-year-old facilities.

“The new public safety training academy is part of the City’s commitment to providing first responders will the best-in-class training as part of broader reforms to ensure first responders have the tools, tactics, and training needed to be successful in their challenging work,” Guglielmi said.

Officials expect construction to start in 2018, so funding plans already are in the works. The facility will sit on 30.4 acres at 4301 W. Chicago Ave in West Garfield Park, an acquisition that will take up to $10 million of the proposed $95 million budget. Part of the proceeds from the $104.7 million sale of the Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management (2FM) headquarters at 1685 N Throop St. will go to the new facility, Guglielmi said.

Money garnered from selling the old police training facilities at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd. will go toward developing this new facility as well.

The City will work with the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT) to choose a developer for the project. CIT issued a request for qualifications in October, with responses due Nov. 20, 2017, Guglielmi said.  

The project’s large scope will not only create 100 temporary construction positions but increase the capacity for police, firefighter, and paramedic trainees, Guglielmi said. Also, its wide array of amenities will increase opportunities for—and quality of—training.

Updated training

The campus will feature two buildings and include classrooms and conference rooms, auditoriums, a practice range, and fitness facilities as well as an indoor shooting range and diving pool. Scenario-based training will prepare professionals more fully for what they will face on the job.

“The site will also include specialized simulation facilities for active scenario training, ranging from buildings, to CTA train cars, to city streets,” Guglielmi explained. “It will have a driving training pad and modular units for scenario based training as well as space for Fire Department extrication training, highrise operations, search and rescue, and confined space rescue training.”

Jason Stamps, associate director at the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the more training and practice officers can get, the better. Stamps stressed the importance of stepping out of the lecture hall and practicing scenario-based training to better prepare officers for their multi-faceted job.

“The job of being a police officer is a very dynamic one,” Stamps said. “There are a lot of different environments, circumstances, and legal information that they have to know and apply.”

Beyond improved training tactics, the new facility will allow police and firefighters to train together, as they often interact as first responders, Guglielmi said. The joint facility will allow for “interagency collaboration,” specifically in emergency response scenarios that allow for “hands-on tactical training in real-world situations,” he said.

Collaborative training includes mental health response scenarios. Guglielmi said CPD officers must fulfill a 16-hour force mitigation class, which includes mental health and crisis intervention training. Also, in October CPD and CFD launched their Crisis Intervention Management Lab, which allows them to join their policies for mental health responses.

“Now, the departments are aligning their policies, better preparing their members using real world scenarios, and communicating among 911 call takers, hospital emergency systems, and mental health experts—all in the best interests of the individuals that they serve.” Guglielmi said.

Set to sit on 30.4-acres at 4301 W. Chicago Ave in West Garfield Park, the project will provide better facilities for Chicago Police and Fire trainees.

Improving police-civilian interactions

While CPD facilities will see an upgrade, some still have concerns over the effect police abuse and political corruption have on the community.

Dick Simpson, a political science professor at UIC and former alderman, has researched extensive corruption, publishing information in his book, Corrupt Illinois, as well as contributing to Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve. Based on his research, Simpson estimates corruption costs the City of Chicago $500 million annually, with police abuse cases making up $50 million of that annual sum. According to Simpson, the City has seen 300 cases of police corruption and abuse in the last three to four decades.

“Training in the academy can help if they put more emphasis on the cases of corruption and the obligation of police officers to break what is called the ‘blue line of silence,’ which is when officers won’t report each other when they see abuse or corruption happening,” Simpson said. “But it’s not clear to me that the curriculum that’s in use addresses this past corruption and abuse.”

Tom Tresser, who coordinated and edited Chicago Is Not Broke, said the City has paid $650 million in settlements due to police violence in the last 12 years. With these statistics in mind, Tresser believes the City must reinvent police training, not simply relocate it.

“Policing needs to change in the City of Chicago, and that has nothing to with the building in which they are trained,” Tresser said.

Guglielmi insists the CPD updated training in response to community concerns. In the last year and a half, it has enhanced the curriculum with scenario-based training, he noted. The City has expressed its dedication as well, as Mayor Emanuel announced in October that the City will invest $27 million in police and public safety reform: of that, $24 million is a new addition to the CPD’s budget, with the rest coming from “repurposing of existing vacancies within the Chicago Police Department,” Guglielmi said. These increased funds will allow “enhanced training, reform implementation, officer wellness, and community policing,” he explained.

Listening to the community

Some Chicagoans vocally opposed the $95 million training facility, even beginning a Twitter hashtag #NoCopAcademy. Chance the Rapper, who has advocated for increased investment in Chicago Public Schools, attended the Nov. 8 City Council meeting to ask alderman to oppose the $10 million purchase of the land for the facility. Lawmakers passed the acquisition, however, in a 48-1 vote.

Simpson, an alderman in the 44th Ward from 1971 to 1979, was surprised to see such a decisive vote.

“It’s interesting that Chance the Rapper’s talk to the City Council had no effect and that community concerns about putting the site on the West Side rather than improving schools and programs on the West Side went unheeded,” Simpson said.

Brianna Hampton-Murff, a student at Intrinsic Schools and part of  the Assata’s Daughters organization, explained that in a community that is already under-resourced and has high poverty rates, there are not enough resources for the residents. With this in mind, Hampton-Murff questions how a new police academy can promote economic development as it takes money away from the programs the neighborhood needs most, such as more youth centers, mental health centers, libraries and resources that help children without wifi at home.

Members of Assata’s Daughters – a youth organization that, is dedicated to carrying on the tradition of radical liberatory activism encompassed by Black activist Assata Shakur – attended the same City Council meeting where Chance the Rapper spoke. Hampton-Murff said they held a press conference and performed banner drops to voice the opinions of the people who live in the community that will be affected by the new academy.

“We are not done,” Hampton-Murff said. “Even though it seems like we are going to lose, it’s more important that we hold hope and know that eventually, even if we can’t change this one, we can change the future events that come up and inform other people to be powerful and know their voices are important.”

Like Hampton-Murff, the issue of a lack of funding for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), as well as mental health facilities, has community members like Tresser concerned about the city’s priorities. Tresser takes issue with the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), which are taxes that are used to attract developers to improve blighted areas. The new academy, according to Guglielmi, is in the Northwest Industrial Corridor TIF District and will draw on the TIF funds for $9.6 million for “land acquisition costs.”

As of 2016, $1.42 billion was sitting in TIF accounts. According to Tresser, that money should go back to the community, such as to CPS, rather than going to developments that he believes benefit the mayor’s agenda.

“It’s just a politically expedient moment,” Tresser said. “People are angry. You close 49 schools, most of them in areas of color, and now you’re spending $95 million on a police school? That does not track. I don’t care how you spin that, it does not track.”

Beyond CPS, Tresser said officials have closed six mental health facilities, leaving fewer facilities to help those with mental illnesses. Guglielmi countered that the Chicago Department of Public Health still runs five mental health clinics and is dedicated to their quality.

“As our 2018 budget proposal makes clear, we are committed to directly managing five clinics as well as strengthening the citywide mental health infrastructure through targeted investments and partnerships to ensure greater access to evidence-based services, most particularly for the City’s most vulnerable residents,” Guglielmi said.

Ultimately, Guglielmi does not believe the new police academy will prevent improving other City services. Instead, it will help improve the economy as it draws trainees to local businesses and invests in the area, he believes.

“This is not an either-or proposition,” Guglielmi said. “We need to invest in education and we are; we need to invest in our communities and we are. The investment in a public safety academy on the West Side means more than just exceptional training for police officers and firefighters, but it is also a $95 million investment in the future of that community.”

Other than the City attempting to sell current facilities at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd., future plans for that site remain unknown at this time.