In the midst of her bid for re-election, Mayor Lori Lightfoot left the campaign trail on Wednesday to celebrate the opening of a new West Garfield Park facility that she says will offer state-of-the-art training to police officers, paramedics and the Chicago Fire Department that she opposed during her first run for office.
“This is a big day for the West Side,” Lightfoot said to applause. “This is a big day for our first responders.”
The facility was named in honor of Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer, who was killed in 2018, and firefighter MaShawn Plummer, who died while battling a wildfire.
Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. David Brown said the facility, which he called the “best in the nation,” should reassure officers that they have the support of Chicago’s people and leaders.
Brown said the department will use the facility to learn how to “do things right” and “knock out COPA,” referring to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the agency tasked with investigating police officer misconduct. of Chicago.
While Lightfoot and other officials touted the facility’s amenities – a six-story tower for firefighters to train in how to fight different types of fires, a mock block and a shooting range – there was no indication that the structure had been built over vehement objections to the massive “No Cop Academy” protest movement, which in 2019 grew to include hundreds of protesters. They asked that the facility’s original $95 million cost be used instead to roll back budget cuts to Chicago public schools and to reopen the public mental health clinics closed in 2011.
Nor did Lightfoot credit former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who proposed the facility in July 2017 And he ran it through a divided city council two months before leaving office — or mention that he proposed building the facility after a 2017 Justice Department investigation found Chicago police officers were graduating from the department’s five-month academy” unprepared for the police legally and effectively”.
That investigation found that officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of Chicago’s black and Latino citizens and led to a federal court order – approved four years ago this month – requiring the Chicago Police Department to reform the way in which he trains, supervises and disciplines officers.
When Emanuel presented the proposal for the new training facility, Lightfoot was chairman of the Chicago Police Board and told the City Club of Chicago that while a new training facility was “desperately needed,” the former mayor’s plan was “ill-conceived”.
“Policiing this building in this poor, high-crime neighborhood where police-community relations are tense, with no clear plan for community engagement, is a mistake,” Lightfoot told the City Club. at the time.
Lightfoot made several significant changes to the proposed city council-approved training facility, which has a final price tag of $170 million, officials said.
This included $33 million to build a “scenario village” featuring multiple two- and three-story brick residential buildings complete with fences, curbs, alleys, sidewalks, patios, back stairways, porches, basements, and garages. A multi-story building will have mock shops on the ground floor with apartments above.
The facility will also include a new 18,000 square foot Boys & Girls Club and two restaurants, Peaches and Culver’s. Emanuel added those restaurants — both owned by African Americans — to the facility as opposition to the proposal mounted.
The club and restaurants are expected to open this summer, officials said.
Lightfoot said the “closeness” of the kids who come to the club will “break down barriers” between them and Chicago police officers, who will be able to “see these kids as they are” as they interact in a facility designed to be pedestrian friendly.
Ald. Emma Mitts, whose 37th ward includes the new facility, said she was happy to have so much new investment in a part of her West Side ward “where we have nothing.”
“I think this is a win for the city,” Mitts said. “It wasn’t easy. We had to take a few bumps. We had hills to climb. We were injured. But bruises heal.
The facility was built on a 30.4-acre former rail yard that had sat empty for more than 40 years before the city bought it in 2017 with some of the proceeds from the sale of a municipal maintenance yard on what is now the Lincoln Yard development on the Northwest Side.
Facility replaces police training academy at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd., built in 1976; the fire training facility at 1010 S. Clinton St., built in 1950; and Fire Academy South at 1338 S. Clinton St., built in 1965, officials said.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]