A Chicago alderman is proposing a “safety and security fee” of $5 per month on homes and businesses to generate the $70 million needed to hire 700 additional police officers, according to news reports from NBC.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) is chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee, and he says that he thinks people would be willing to accept the new fee, the NBC article reports. He told the newspaper that he wants his kids to feel safe when they go outside to play, and “You can’t put a price on that,” he says.

However, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy recently told NBC Chicago that he has enough officers to fight gangs and city violence, saying: “I can walk through the door with Mayor Emanuel and find 600 officers that are behind desk duty that we need to get out on the street. It’s not necessarily [how] many you have, it’s what they do and where they are,” he says.

According to a report from WLS, a Chicago radio station, if the $5 monthly fee were tacked on to the monthly electric bill of Commonwealth Edison’s one million residential and 170,000 business customers and remitted to the city, it would generate the $70 million needed to bolster the force with 700 more officers and more community policing, Cardenas says.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields says that he would welcome “any new source of revenue” that could be used to bolster the police force, which stands at 11,799 after a three-year hiring slowdown.

However, Shields also says in the WLS article: “Why is it that we have to go to another source of revenue to pay for these officers? Policing is a basic city service that should be in the budget without a new fee. The mayor eliminated 1,252 police vacancies. The 2012 budget should not have been balanced at the expense of public safety. Those vacancies should have been filled.”

So far this year, there have been 386 homicides and 1,829 shooting incidents in Chicago, WLS reports. That’s up 24.5 and 10 percent respectively from the same period in 2011.

Cardenas is also the alderman who championed Chicago’s nickel-a-container tax on bottled water, and he has proposed an anti-obesity plan to tax Chicago’s consumers of soda, energy drinks and other sugared beverage anywhere from 15 to 30 cents per container, or even a penny per ounce. This potential tax could add $118 million to the city’s coffers, WLS reports, but it still needs approval from the Illinois General Assembly.

Chicagoans aren’t staying quiet about the possibility of this “safety and security fee,” as commenters at the Chicago Sun-Times weigh in on the issue:

Bob Angone from the South Loop says: “Ald. George Cardenas may have hit on a good idea that would help the vastly undermanned Chicago Police Department hire more officers. No question the department is dangerously short of manpower, and the alderman’s idea of a modest $5-a-month fee per every Chicago household is intriguing.

“A few questions and some answers are needed before the debate begins. The alderman says the increase in police manpower would lead to more officers being free to return to specialized units, which he likes because they were highly effective in fighting gang violence on Chicago’s streets. One of the answers the alderman must seek first is from Supt. Garry McCarthy, who is on record against specialized units because he says they have an adverse effect on the community.

“Would McCarthy free these officers from the confinement of the districts to return to do the jobs they did so effectively? How would business addresses be affected?

“Would the $5 apply to one address only or the number of units in a building or high-rise or office building? After all, businesses and corporations also gain from police security. Lots of questions, but with some debate this could be one great idea.”

Another comment from Thomas Lally of the Garfield Ridge neighborhood is even more skeptical: “It seems Ald. George Cardenas (12th) wants to tax ComEd bills to hire more police! Not a good idea, alderman! Why not get more money and a more fair tax? Tax cellphone bills, that way an equitable amount of people would be paying another tax. Also, guarantee that the money would go directly to the police. Another day, another new tax!”


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