Mayor Lightfoot has great opportunity to improve on plans for Joint Public Safety Training Center
May 3, 2019


Mayor Lightfoot has great opportunity to improve on plans for Joint Public Safety Training Center.

Both proponents and opponents of the City’s Joint Public Safety Training Center in the West Garfield Park community, in which recruits for police, firefighters, and paramedics will be trained, make some valid points in the controversy over the new facilities.

Such facilities truly are needed. Not only are current facilities for police and fire trainees cramped and outdated, but much more importantly, the limits of training capabilities in those facilities contribute to problems that even the U.S. Department of Justice has said result in racial bias, excessive use of force by police, and violations of constitutional rights. If a new facility will allow for more modern training that will help eliminate these problems, we are all for it.

We realize that the estimated price tag of $95 million is a very large investment, and many opponents of the Joint Public Safety Training Center argue that the resources would be better served for resources in under-funded communities for mental health, education, job training and development, etc. These are all very valid arguments, but the loss of life on the streets of Chicago due to inadequate police training, and the millions of dollars in lawsuits that follow, harm us in ways far more costly. The truth is, one cannot put a price on a human life. 

The new facilities will allow for training more police and therefore put more police on the streets, which is impossible with the current Police Academy in the West Loop. They also will allow for continuing training, so professionals on the job will be able to have a place to come back to learn the latest methods and innovations, such as crisis intervention training that can help de-escalate a situation before it reaches a danger point.

As the Rev. Ralph Tolbert has pointed out, unnecessary shootings such as those in the cases of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones could have been avoided had police officers received the modern, community-centered type of training a new facility could provide. 

Training together also will lead to better cooperation between the three types of public safety professionals once they are on the job.

The City chose to build the facility not in a well-to-do or gentrifying part of town, but on long-vacant property in an area that could sorely use economic development. Both construction of facilities and their operation once built are expected to bring jobs and activity to the area.

Economic development is desirable, but it seems the City is talking only about restaurants and retail to accommodate trainees and staff in conjunction with the new facilities.

As West Garfield Park resident Brianna Hampton said in a public meeting, let’s not just be satisfied with job training that puts local residents waiting tables or working a cash register. Let’s have real job training preparing West Siders for downtown jobs.

How about a real economic development plan that includes new and expanded social service facilities in the area so the City’s social service professionals can receive continuing training in the latest methodologies, while those who need the City’s social services can go to clean, modern facilities instead of older social service facilities that are just as cramped and outdated as current police and firefighter training facilities?

Also, instead of just planning restaurants, how about an actual food store to eliminate the West Side food desert while providing more job opportunities and making the West Side a destination for shopping?  What about culinary training for area residents to gain the skill sets needed to work in as chefs someday? 

Along these lines, while we disagree with the #NoCopAcademy group, whose members generally want no new Joint Public Safety Training facility at all, we do agree with their call “for meaningful investment that transforms the community and meets human needs.”

One thing all can agree on is that, in typical Chicago fashion, clout appears to be a factor in the construction of the new facility. Despite all the excellent architects and developers in Chicago, the City, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council, went all the way to Los Angeles to pick Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations, and Maintenance (AECOM) Corp., which has a history of cost overruns and had to stop construction on a Detroit municipal project because of alleged corruption. The current Chicago Fleet Management commissioner, David Reynolds, is a former AECOM vice president. As usual, clout reigns supreme in the awarding of City business.

With reform Mayor Lori Lightfoot about to take office this month, the City has a golden opportunity to fix what is wrong with this project. She should build it, but do more than expect restaurants and retail connected with it to revitalize the West Side. Instead, the new mayor should add asocial services, job training, and a supermarket to induce real change.

Mayor Lightfoot also needs to take a hard look at the AECOM deal. Throw this company out of the mix, and give the business to a Chicago firm that will promise to use local architects, local construction workers, and create local jobs.

If the Joint Public Safety Training Center results in better-trained safety personnel, more social services, economic revitalization, and more jobs, then everyone would win and clout-heavy politicians and other influencers would lose. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change and a great first accomplishment for the Lightfoot Administration?

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