The right way to fund urban security

Sept. 21, 2012
Chicago alderman plan to impose safety and security fee in electric bills is flawed

Here at, we're all for security, and so it seems is Chicago Alderman George Cardenas. He's proposed a safety and security fee that would be levied upon Chicago's citizens to help pay for more police officers. Improving law enforcement and public safety in Chicago is an admirable cause, but the proposed method of fee capture (in an electric bill) is not so admirable.

According to WLS Chicago, Cardenas' fee "would be aimed to ease a manpower shortage in the police department and address a surge in Chicago's homicide rate." There is no question that the motive is positive here. Chicago's 2012 homicide numbers are expected to surpass the number of homicides last year. Just this past week, 11 persons were killed in 5 days. A 2006 map of violent crimes in Chicago's neighborhoods paints the landscape well; it tells the story of a high number of neighborhoods that present crime density problems. And it's no secret that this is a town with a history of gang violence and drug trafficking. So, on one hand, we have to applaud Cardenas for telling Chicago's citizens to buck up to pay for security, and the proposed fee of about $5 per month, or $60 per year seems generally palatable. Understandably, Cardenas is probably trying to work in a quick way to raise some funds to pay for a law enforcement boost that could also improve the city's urban security.

It's the suggested point of collection that I see a challenge with. Cardenas proposal is to put the fee in the bill for Commonwealth Edison electrical service customers -- which would reach one million homes and 170,000 businesses. Cardenas said that method could create a fee capture of $70 million. The challenge, however, is two-fold: First, it's that support of a clearly needed investment in public safety would be "tacked on." Rather than tie funding for public safety together with political duct tape, why not put this in the 2013 proposed budget while the budget is still in the proposal stage and make it a strategic decision? The second challenge with placing the funding of public safety and urban security in an electric bill is that it hides the source. I'm a believer that one of the central reasons for taxation is for protection and defense -- that we primarily organize ourselves under a taxing government because we recognize the need for cooperative defenses. If we have the need to improve our defenses (and law enforcement by nature defends cultural standards), let's be clear and put that in the main taxation methodology and not hide it off in an electric bill. Let's be upfront with citizens: If you want a secured city, commit to the taxation and expenditure directly.

I'll close with a blatant plug. If urban security and public safety is your interest area, join us at the Secured Cities conference Oct. 10-11 in the city of Philadelphia. Topics include urban anti-terrorism, municipal video surveillance, campus protection, mass transit security, funding and more.