Vallas: It’s time for a Chicago nuisance ordinance

Vallas: It’s time for a Chicago nuisance ordinance

Whether college protest encampments or political convention agitators, Chicago needs a way to penalize the few who disrupt life for the rest of us. A nuisance ordinance would do that.

We’re seeing protests causing disruptions all over Chicago, but those who damage property, trespass, violate the public way or disrupt commerce in our city go largely untouched. That includes outsiders, whether they camp on college campuses or plan to picket at the Democratic National Convention.

Offenders are rarely arrested. Even when they are, they are rarely charged or spend a night in jail. There are also few financial consequences for the damage they do.

It’s time to change that.

Chicago needs a “city nuisance ordinance” to ensure clear consequences for individuals who engage in quality-of-life crimes that make life difficult for city residents and businesses.

Chicago, as a home rule city, has the power to municipally create law on any issue “for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare.” A nuisance ordinance would give police legal authority to make arrests and for courts to levy real consequences to protect against public disorder. Consequences could include impounding vehicles, confiscating personal property, revoking licenses and levying heavy fines.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st Ward, previously proposed a nuisance ordinance called the “Criminal Accountability Ordinance.” It never moved forward in the City Council.

There’s nothing like being hit in your pocketbook. Chicago could hit perpetrators financially, letting them face having their car booted for non-payment of fines, being denied a transit pass, having credit challenged when seeking a new credit card or a loan, and being pursued and harassed by debt collectors.

Whether they pay or not, the consequence can be a warning that there are at least serious financial consequences for their actions.

Truthfully, the city has been making law-abiding citizens pay for decades.

Each year, Chicago issues more than 3 million tickets for a wide range of parking, vehicle compliance and automated traffic camera violations – more than Los Angeles and New York City combined. Eight of the 10 ZIP codes with the most accumulated ticket debt per adult are in majority Black neighborhoods, suggesting the debt burden impacts the poor heavily.

Many Chicagoans are driven into bankruptcy by red light and speed cameras, vehicular sticker and parking fines. A ProPublica Illinois analysis showed traffic and vehicle compliance tickets prompt so many bankruptcies that the court here leads the nation in Chapter 13 filings.

It’s unfair Chicago is harming these residents, while there are few consequences for those who would damage property or disrupt the community.

With thousands descending on Chicago for the DNC this summer, the city should have added incentive to enact a nuisance ordinance. It’s no coincidence Mayor Brandon Johnson delayed canceling the ShotSpotter contract until after the convention, or that Kim Foxx scrapped her do-not-prosecute rules for protesters just for the convention.

The ordinance should state anyone rioting, looting, violating the public way, physically assaulting a police officer, or even publicly calling for such behavior would be arrested and prosecuted under state charges of mob action or reckless conduct. They should also face heavy fines and penalties for failure to pay those fines. They could also be subjected to a potential lawsuit brought by the city to recover property damage costs.

In the 1990s, crime rates went down after there were enough police on the street to ensure local “police beat” integrity and real-time response to 911 calls. However, policymakers also recognized crime rates are a function of expectations about the rule of law, which requires acting against quality-of-life crimes to signal to criminals that laws will be enforced.

A nuisance ordinance would restore that expectation of accountability.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!