Five vie for spots on 17th District police council
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Three candidates for the 17th (Albany Park) Police District Council are running on progressive issues of police reform and accountability, restorative justice, and “treatment not trauma.”
One wants to help the CPD reduce the surge in district gang violence and murders, and get more cops on the street.
And the fifth wants a little bit of both.
Running on the progressive side in the Feb. 28 election are community organizer Anthony Michael Tamez, Steve Spagnolo, chief of government relations for Lake County state’s attorney’s office, and nurse practitioner Elizabeth Rochford. Also running are Chicago firefighter Brian Sullivan and active and longtime 33rd Ward community resident and former Albany Park Chamber of Commerce president Nick Carusi.
Voters in the Feb. 28 election can pick three of the five candidates for the 4-year terms who will serve on the 22 police district councils that were formed as part of the “Empowering Communities for Public Safety” ordinance approved by the Chicago City Council in 2021.
The councils will work with the citywide, 7-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which will have a role in selecting and removing the police superintendent, police board members, and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability chief administrator, as well as setting department policy and reviewing the police department budget.
The councils will hold monthly public meetings and nominate who will serve on the commission.
“We need to make police more accountable about how they are policing our communities. We have to combat this narrative that the only way we can protect communities is by having more officers. There is a lot of fear-mongering. We have to fight for more treatment not trauma,” said Tamez, who has worked for alderpersons Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) where he learned about the inner workings of city government.
Tamez said that the district encompasses several wards and the council will need to work with area aldermen to bring people to the table.
He said he supports fully funding schools, summer programs, protecting youth, and mental health services as part of public safety.
Sullivan said that he is running for the council to give his neighbors a voice when it comes to public safety decisions.”
“As the 16th and 17th district’s gang conflicts spiral out-of-control, our request to increase the staffing levels of our dangerously understaffed districts have fallen on deaf ears. As our district’s gang violence has increased, our district’s staffing has decreased. If that wasn’t bad enough, specialized units that could have addressed our district’s gang violence, who were staffed with gang specialists, have either been disbanded or had their staffing cut in half. CPD needs to start making policies that follow basic logic,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he wants to do something about the department’s vehicle chase policy “if being in a vehicle is a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
“I will not be telling police officers what to do, I will however strongly advocate for better policies and procedures,” Sullivan said.
Spagnolo said that crime and police accountability are issues near and dear to him because his father was killed in an armed robbery when he was 3-years-old.
“We’ve got a problem with policing in Chicago and we need more transparency,” Spagnolo said. As the chief of government relations and external affairs in Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart’s office, he said he has a unique perspective than the other candidates.
“I want to have accountability. When it costs $2.6 billion to fund an agency that solves half the crimes we need some forensic accounting to make sure we are getting what we pay for,” Spagnolo said. He was referring to the CPD’s murder clearance rate, which according to published reports was more than 50 percent in 2021, which was also the highest it has been in two decades, according to CPD superintendent David Brown.
“One question I would ask is “What is our current crime reduction strategy?” Do we even have a homicide unit? The clearance rate for homicides is not good. It’s frustrating to me,” he said.
Spagnolo said the police need to bring more results to be able to be granted such a high budget every year by the City Council. He said that money can be spent better at the community level on youth programs and restorative justice.
His Web site states that he has worked to elect progressive Democrats, including working on campaigns of congresswoman Robin Kelly and congressman Bill Foster, former 45th Ward alderman John Arena, the late Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis’ campaign for mayor, and Chuy Garcia’s previous mayoral campaign.
Elizabeth “Beth” Rochford, whose father James M. Rochford was the superintendent of CPD from 1974 to 1977, said that as a nurse practitioner she understands the use of data and evidence. “In nursing we use evidence and data in taking care of our patients. We want to make sure facts and data are driving how police do their job,” she said.
“As I walk around the district I hear concerns that people feel that they are unfairly treated. They are treated differently when they look like me, an older White woman, than when they are people of color, and that’s a problem,” she said.
Rochford cited issues at Horner Park where the basketball courts are not lit past a certain time and the tennis courts are. She said the park district told her that “those serve a different clientele.”
“The root cause of crime has to do with poverty and disinvestment. One of our main fights will be for restorative justice,” she said.
As of press time, Carusi did not have a chance to respond to questions from Nadig Newspapers. But he did post on Facebook that he was running because he has been active in the community for a long time.
“Many of you have known me for years as a resident of the 33rd Ward. I am proud of my history serving my community within the 33rd Ward. I believe we share a concern for the safety of our neighbors in the 33rd Ward. It is also true that we want a say and have a better partnership with 17th Police District and the officers we depend on when we need them,” he said.
“It has become clear that we need to both support public safety efforts while having a voice in how this is done. Some wish to withdraw support and confront our police officers rather than create a collaboration with the 17th Police District,” Carusi posted. He was the president of the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce and a director of the North River Commission.
What about gangs?
“In some ways, the CPD is not very responsive to the gang problem,” Spagnolo said. “And when we say gangs, what we are really talking about are cliques on social media. It’s personalized, with individuals on social media belittling each other.
“So we are not dealing with the Mafia here, or the Latin Kings or Cobras. We are dealing with very fractured and splintered parts of bigger gangs so it’s a tougher problem to solve. And we need to get at the root cause of crime. It’s poverty. Lack of services. We are dealing with kids. What is affecting our kids? So it’s complicated,” Spagnolo said.
Sullivan: “There are extremely violent gang factions in the 17th District that are responsible for a large number of murders and shootings taking place on the North Side, these violent gang factions are also involved in stealing cars, carjackings, armed robberies, and selling heroin and methamphetamine in newly established open air drug markets in the 17th District. All of these gang factions are using social media to further gang conflicts and their criminal enterprises.”
Sullivan said gang members are telling everyone what they are doing, who they are involved in conflicts with, and why on social media as a status symbol.
“Unfortunately, CPD’s social media policy only allows a small percentage of officers to view information that is essential to understanding the problem of gang violence,” Sullivan said. The more progressive candidates are opposed to the CPD’s gang member database.
“It is an easy way to identify, locate, and arrest armed violent gang members before they commit a mass shooting or an act of gun violence,” Sullivan said.
Rochford said that violence interrupters are needed in all districts and not just in a few targeted areas.
Tamez said that when people talk about the issue of “defund” the police, “some people in some communities don’t know what that means and others do. The CPD budget is overinflated. So we don’t want to ‘defund’ but we want to redirect funding to other programs.”
“(Bottom line is) We don’t know how this will play out. I would hate for it (the councils) to turn into an us vs. them situation. The police officers are putting their lives on the line. If the councils go at this with an us vs. them approach it’s going to create a lot of tension. We want to make sure we have a sit down with the community at the table,” Tamez said.
Will this create shouting matches every month?
“Oh it’s inevitable, the shouting matches,” Tamez said.
“It’s difficult to talk about public safety. If people start to shout at these meetings we will of course try to ease tensions and ask them not to shout, but we also have to come from a point of understanding that people are fed up and are passionate,” he said.
Rochford said that “If people want to shout they can go to a CAPS meeting. This is about what you are experiencing when dealing with the police.”