Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), vice chair of the council Finance Committee, is open to cutting the Chicago Police Department's budget and has endorsed removing officers from a security role at Chicago Public Schools.
"The City Council does the budget, and in this day and age, it is unacceptable to me that there is a hands-off on the department that we spend the most money on, on the department that we spend over $1 billion in settlements," she said.
"What I will say is that we will be looking to see where cuts can be made. We will be reviewing programs to see what is working and what is not working. It does not make sense to have an area of the department that is not producing results."
A meeting with neighborhood youth leaders and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin preceded Hairston's interview with the Herald, and she said the engagement made her question the value of stationing police officers in schools.
"They asked why, and the thing is, is there a better way of dealing with issues?" she said. "You don't need them standing in the halls when they're coming in the building to go to school in the morning. They're going to learn, and I think it sends a bad message."
Hairston said policymakers need to hear from school administrators about finding a better way to deal with discipline in schools: if something happens that requires it, police will respond in any event. "But I don't think you need to have one there greeting them when they come to school."
The positions put Hairston, who has been elected to City Council six times and is the fourth-most-senior alderman, at odds with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
"The people in our neighborhoods want and have been begging for more police support," Lightfoot said at a June 4 press conference. "In light of what's happened over the last couple days, it would be irresponsible for me to entertain any idea that we would cut back."
Today, Lightfoot announced opposition to withdrawing officers from schools. “Unfortunately, we need security in our schools," she said at another press conference. "We spent a lot of time a year ago working through challenges we had seen with police officers in our schools.”
Chicago Public School's current budget pays police $33 million for officer safety. Responding to the mayor, Hairston, who voted for Lightfoot's first budget in November, pointed out that the power of the purse belongs to aldermen.
"That does not make sense to me, so my hope is that she will think better, but again, it is the City Council that does the budget," she said. "I don't think that you just say, 'Well, we're not touching anything," because there should have been an overall audit from last May of the police department and their function."
Hairston has long touted her council independence and membership in the Progressive Reform Caucus. She led the unsuccessful fight to create an Independent Citizen Police Monitor program while the council passed former Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Civilian Office of Police Accountability instead; last summer, she unsuccessfully pushed for hearings into a pro-police bias at the agency.
"I have worked over my 21 years on this council for police accountability — none of it ever materializing, being languished in committee," Hairston said at a June 3 Public Safety Committee hearing. "Panels put together that really had no intention of doing anything meaningful, and I think that's why we find ourselves here today."
Last May, when newly elected socialist aldermen pushed for the council to create the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), Hairston again touted her Independent Citizen Police Monitor legislation. But at the Public Safety Committee, she encouraged the administration to incorporate CPAC into police reforms.
"We've got to make sure that those who have not supported change and police reforms, that they are made to understand and change their stance," Hairston said in the interview. "The pressure has got to be put on the mayor and City Council."
She also commented on the nature of the times.
"I lived through the civil rights movement," she said. "I grew up in the civil rights movement, and I fought racism. I fought to bring Black Studies to the Lab School. I fought at the University of Wisconsin, and I fought as a Black woman lawyer for a semblance of equality. And at first I thought that this is my second go-around with the civil unrest, only to really realize that it never stopped."