With three months remaining in the school year, there have been 118 shootings involving Chicago Public School students. The numbers, down from last year, have prompted Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) to introduce an anonymous Violence Prevention Hotline, but one representative said it is just another “useless mandate.”
House Bill 4647, which passed the House 112-1 last month and is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate, would force Chicago Public Schools to start a hotline to collect anonymous tips from people who might otherwise fear reporting crimes to the police. The hotline would be run by the Chicago Police Department, which would investigate each call.
Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Charleston), the only representative to vote against the bill, said this is just another unnecessary expense the state can’t afford.
“We already have this program. It is called 911 and Crime Stoppers,” Rose said. “The state of Illinois is broke. We don’t have enough money to pay our teachers. Our school districts are broke and waiting on back payments. We don’t need this. If there is an immediate threat to someone’s life, we should be dialing 911, not some 1-800 number.”
Davis disagreed. She said students will not call 911; they will not seek out a police officer because they are afraid of the repercussions of being a “snitch.”
“There must be a way for students to call and anonymously report any incidents of violence that they have heard about,” Davis said. “We need to have a way for our children to reach out and report violence without being afraid for their safety.”
Nineteen CPS students have been killed this year, 15 by gunshot, said CPS spokesman Bob Otter.
Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Services, said there is no guarantee that a hotline will work, but said it will be largely dependent on how well the hotline is promoted.
“School hotlines are just another piece of the puzzle. They are an extra tool for school officials and law enforcement,” Trump said.
If passed, Illinois will join 10 other states that have similar violence prevention hotlines within their cities, including Florida, Michigan and Georgia. Rochelle Finzel, program manager at the National Conference of State Legislators, said besides Colorado, there is no state that has passed legislation on a statewide hotline.
Illinois, along with most states, doesn’t necessarily need a hotline, said Elena Calafell, executive director of Illinois Center for Violence Prevention. Instead, the state needs to implement a comprehensive plan that involves all entities working together to curb violence, she said.
“The statistics are clear: Youth do not turn to adults, instead they turn to their peers,” she said. “Having a mechanism or vehicle for the students to report violence anonymously is a great idea, but it is a very small part of the puzzle and one that I don’t think will be utilized a great deal.”
Some supports say an anonymous tip line would help get around a community “code of silence” that often stifles law enforcement efforts.
“There is a fear that young men and women have and they won’t break the code of silence, even if it’s anonymous,” Tio Hardiman, director of Ceasefire Illinois said. “They are always afraid someone is going to find out that they snitched. We have to change those mindsets before these programs will work.”
Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) didn’t agree. She said if there was concern, the bill wouldn’t have overwhelmingly passed.
“If this is something that the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools, among other entities, don’t agree with, it would be a surprise to me,” she said. “I would have thought they would have made their concern known to someone. Obviously they didn’t. The vote was 112-1.”
The Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools declined repeated requests for comment.
Trump said ensuring students’ safety needs to become a priority again.
“We have to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “It is one thing to say that school safety and violence prevention is the top priority, but that has to be reflected in the budget, otherwise it is more rhetoric than priority.”
Ron Holmes, a spokesman for Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), a co-sponsor for the bill in the Senate, said there has been a lot of support for the bill, and they expect it to see it on the calendar this week.