KANKAKEE — In three weeks, Mayor-elect Chris Curtis will call Kankakee City Hall home, but the soon-to-be-former Republican 6th Ward alderman does not need to wonder what his focus must be: Dealing with gun violence.
Elected only Tuesday, Curtis sat down to answer questions from the Daily Journal regarding what his first thoughts are as he is poised to assume the top elected post in Kankakee.
Give residents a 3-sentence message now that the election has concluded.
I want to thank the residents of Kankakee for giving me the opportunity to serve them as the mayor of Kankakee. I’m excited to work with our entire City Council, including current-sitting and newly elected council members.
Over the past 14 weeks, I have heard the residents’ concerns and opinions and this administration will listen and start immediately addressing the residents’ needs.
You campaigned that you would have an open-door policy. Give three specific ways you will open City Hall doors and improve transparency?
Our team will put the residents of the city first, if they desire to meet or talk.
1. We will have an open-door policy and meet with the public without requiring an appointment. If I’m not in the office or in a meeting, then all efforts to accommodate the meeting as quickly as possible will be made, but it won’t take several weeks for such an appointment to occur.
2. I have always had my cellphone available for the public to call as an alderman and will continue that practice going forward as mayor.
3. When the public requests information about items of concern, that are not private, our team will react accordingly and promptly.
As you campaigned during the past 3 months, how would you describe the concerns of Kankakee residents?
The past 3 months of walking door-to-door made three things clear:
1. Public safety must be addressed quickly and efforts to reduce gun violence must be swift.
2. We are better as a community that works as one and care for one another, so unity must occur.
3. The appearance of the city must be cleaned. Residents, property owners and landlords will be held accountable.
I do believe the residents are optimistic for the city’s future if we address these issues.
You campaigned on removing the current police chief. Why did you single that position out? What do you expect of the next police chief?
The residents of Kankakee stated that public safety is their No. 1 issue. The shootings and violence have continued to increase each of the past three years and the shooting statistics, after only the first three months of 2021, are staggering.
It is not an option to not take action and continue down this same path. Change often has to start with the top leadership. We would expect our next chief to implement several of our team’s ideas immediately and be open to reporting major crimes quickly to the residents and public.
What is your plan with the vehicle sticker tax?
At this point, the vehicle sticker fee will remain in place. In generates more than $400,000 to the general operating budget of the city and we will need to continue to collect this revenue to have a balanced budget.
The No. 1 issue throughout this campaign was public safety. What is your answer to gun violence in Kankakee?
It will take the mayor, the full city council, community leaders and all the residents working together to make a difference in public safety. We need to implement the following as soon as possible:
1. Develop a Community Policing Officer program:
• Work to strengthen the relationship between the public and the police.
• Work with our senior citizens to help keep them safe.
• Work with city council members to create Neighborhood Watches.
• Partner with schools to help educate children about the dangers of bullying, guns, drugs, gangs and social media.
• Partner with social services to help our citizens who need intervention.
• Work together with community leaders and activists to reduce violence.
• Develop a dedicated police social media page which keeps citizens aware of police department activities.
• Department recruitment, especially in minority communities.
2. Put more officers on patrol.
• Hire more police. The department is below its budgeted manpower level.
• Recruit more minorities to apply for the police department so the diversity of the force reflects our city which can help build trust within all parts of the community.
• Place more officer on the street targeting higher-crime areas.
3. Developing a “Stop the Violence Community Task Force” to meet monthly to discuss violence:
• Local clerical leaders, coaches, mentors, police, state’s attorney, Kankakee County Sheriff, city council members.
• Work together to build trust and eliminate the “code of silence” that is detrimental to our city.
4. Utilize partnership resources to help reduce violence such as:
• Kankakee Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group.
• Federal law enforcement (i.e. ATFE, DEA, FBI, U.S. Marshals and U.S. Attorney’s office).
• Illinois State Police.
• Local law enforcement.
• State’s Attorney’s office.
• Will attend the Monday morning mayors’ meeting with Kankakee County law enforcement leaders to receive feedback and strategize on combatting violence.
5. Build up neighborhoods:
• Need to transform neighborhoods that have lacked investment and bring business/jobs to those areas to help reduce violence.
• Neighborhood Watch programs.
• Neighborhood camera programs, including permanently mounted high-resolution systems.
• Clean up the neighborhoods through the Code Enforcement and Department of Public Works. It’s the “broken window syndrome.”
6. Partner with local businesses:
Making jobs available for city residents.