CHICAGO — A proposal to build a $95 million police and fire training center was approved Friday by the Chicago City Council over the angry objections of residents who shouted that the money would be better spent on desperately needed programs to help people find jobs, raise their children and deal with mental health issues.
"This will reduce crime and increase public safety," said Alderman Emma Mitts, in whose ward the new facility will be built. "Our community needs this, plain as day."
As many protesters were shouting at the aldermen, prompting police officers to escort several out of the City Council chambers, the aldermen said that the new facility was an absolute necessity — particularly since the U.S. Department of Justice said the city needed drastically improved police training facilities. The DOJ made the order in a scathing report about the Chicago Police Department after the police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
The aldermen also said the facility will make one of the city's more dangerous communities safer, which will in turn attract more businesses to locate there and people to move there.
"The current (police training) facility is outdated and in disrepair and it's so cramped that Taser training happens in the hallway,' said Alderman Ariel Reboyras.
But the facility has come to represent the anger in Chicago, where residents have complained that at a time when dozens of schools have been closed in recent years and there are news reports about police brutality, the police department is being rewarded with a new training center.
For months, activists have staged protests. The issue even caught the attention of Chicago-native Chance The Rapper, who urged the city to spend the money on programs that would benefit residents and not a police training facility.
"Shame on you for not representing the needs of the people of the city," Chicago resident Cosette Hampton said during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who tried to get the vote postponed until there was more public comment, said there are much more pressing needs for the city and programs that are woefully underfunded.
"The city of Chicago spends 300 percent more on policing than we do on family and support services, public health, pedestrian and traffic safety and affordable housing," Ramirez-Rosa said.
Friday's vote was to transfer $20 million from the sale of a piece of property in the city to help pay for the proposed facility. But aldermen said the vote makes certain that the facility will be built.
"This is it," said Reboyras.