When Mayor Brandon Johnson unveiled his $16.6 billion proposed 2024 budget in October, an approximately $90 million increase in the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) budget drew criticism from some organizers and community members.

The budgetary increase includes 400 new civilian positions within the police department, such as building the department’s records team and civilian training officers of the 400 new civilian positions, 44 are part of an expansion of the department’s Crime Victim Service Unit. Those new roles include crime victim advocates and domestic violence advocates. 

Salaries also contribute to the proposed police budget increase, which is about a three percent increase from $1,907,521,688 in 2023 to the proposed $1,998,869,599 for 2024. According to Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) interim commissioner Oswaldo Gomez, salary increases are set due to previous contract negotiations between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). The FOP negotiates contracts on behalf of CPD officers.   

“If you get hired for a position, chances are two years from now, you’re probably going to get a salary boost simply by being in that position,” Gomez told The TRiiBE. The CCPSA can review and recommend changes to the CPD’s budget before the City Council approves it.

“The commission is in no way defending or trying to say that the budget is going in a good direction or a bad direction. The actual direction of the budget is set by the department and, to some extent, the mayor,” he said. 

Although the addition of detectives and expanding support and services for victims and survivors of crime and violence align with Johnson’s campaign promises, advocates who work directly with those populations fear that these new roles within a law enforcement agency like CPD will place their clients at greater risk. 

When gender-based violence advocates work under service agencies separate from law enforcement, they are forbidden to share any communication between their clients with the police. 

Gender-based violence advocates are urging the Johnson administration to amend CPD’s proposed budget and redistribute the dollars designated for domestic violence advocates positions to community-based organizations that are already doing the work of connecting victims and survivors to resources and services. In total, the proposed CPD budget allocates more than $2.3 million to fund salaries for the new 44 civilian advocate roles in the Crime Victim Service Unit. 

“I just always feel like when people have lived experience, they do the work with a different level of care. So that would be my biggest thing: that they connect with community-based organizations already doing that work,” said Arewa Karen Winters, a 15th District Police District Council member. 

“Find crime victim advocates in the community, find domestic violence advocates in the community, and empower them because, who knows, they could be struggling for funding,” she added.

The expansion of the crime victim services unit is also of concern to some Police District Council members because they weren’t included in conversations about adding more civilians to the police department.

“We’re the elected body for police accountability and public safety. So, if it’s anything concerning public safety, I think it should be a representative from district councils to be a part of this conversation. I think that’s not only a fair ask, but it should be mandatory,” said 25th District Police District Council member Angelica Green.

At an Oct. 24 City Council budget hearing, CPD Supt. Larry Snelling referred to crime victim advocates and domestic violence advocates as an expansion of the department’s crime victim service unit.

CPD Supt. Larry Snelling during a CCPSA meeting on Sept. 7, 2023. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Additionally, adding 200 detectives and civilian positions like crime victim advocate and domestic violence advocate aligns with what Johnson campaigned on. Specifically, his public safety plan called for recruiting, training, and promoting new detectives and expanding support for victims and survivors of gender-based violence, respectively. 

Since taking office in May, the police department has promoted 70 police officers to detectives.

“We’ve created opportunities for promotion as well as to hire more detectives because we got to solve crime in Chicago,” Johnson said at a press conference following his budget address on Oct. 11. “But also be very clear that we’ve situated the civilianization of positions that ultimately free up police officers to do what they do, which is to work to keep us safe.”

According to Madeleine Behr, policy director at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), the addition of these victim support roles demonstrates that the Johnson administration is trying to improve and increase victim support within CPD, which has had an “abysmal track record when it comes to addressing domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.”

CAASE is a nonprofit that works to end all forms of sexual harm, including sexual assault, rape and sex trafficking. The nonprofit analyzed the department’s response to sex crimes and found that 80 to 90 percent of sexual harm reports between 2010 and 2019 did not result in arrest. 

Also, with CPD’s creation of domestic violence advocates as civilian roles, there’s terminology that creates a legal issue. Using the term “advocate” for the job title, Behr said, “muddies the water.” 

Under state law, advocates —who work in agencies outside of law enforcement, and who work with victims and survivors of gender-based violence — are bound by confidentiality. However, there are two ways that communication between a survivor and an advocate can be shared with police: 1) if the survivor gives permission, or 2) there is severe bodily harm. If an advocate reveals confidential information to police without permission, it’s punishable by law. 

To further explain, Behr created a scenario. If a domestic violence survivor is in a text exchange with the person that harmed them, and writes “I am fine” after the harm was caused, that text exchange could be used against them if the survivor later decides to pursue criminal charges. If the survivor shares that text exchange with a CPD advocate, they are not prohibited from sharing that information with the detective investigating the case.

“My concern is when we say victim advocates within the CPD, or advocates within a rape crisis center, that survivors are not going to necessarily know the difference around the issue of confidentiality and informed consent,” Behr said. “I don’t know what those protocols look like, but to call them advocates in our world, that’s a very specific legal privilege attached to that title, and that role better protects survivors.” 

Advocates who specifically work in this field also must undergo extensive training and “be certified by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault [ICASA], or through an ICASA rape crisis center,” Behr explained. The law is similar to HIPAA privacy rules for medical providers.

It’s unclear whether CPD will require its new hires to undergo training and certification through ICASA. The CPD declined to comment on this story and referred The TRiiBE to its Oct. 24 budget hearing. 

“They [CPD domestic violence advocates] don’t have those confidentiality privileges, which means that anything that a survivor shares to that CPD advocate, or that [CPD] victim witness specialist, could be used for or against their case,” she said.


Maralea Negron echoed Behr’s sentiments, adding that Johnson’s administration should continue to support already-existing legal advocates. Negron is the director of policy, advocacy and research at The Network, which represents 40 plus member organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of those impacted by gender-based violence through education, public policy and advocacy, and connecting community members with direct service providers.

“Let the legal advocates who are already doing this work and working with law enforcement continue to do the advocacy,” she said. “They know the population well. They understand the dynamics of gender-based violence.” 

There are currently three organizations, namely the Connections for Abused Women and their Children, Life Span and Family Rescue, that partner with CPD to assist victims and survivors who request services or resources, Negron said. 

“They [the organizations] understand the system that survivors have to work with and walk through. The creation of these domestic violence advocate positions is something the community is not asking for. The community is asking for additional resources to expand and continue to do the work we are already doing,” she continued.  

Negron pointed to organizations such as Resilience (formerly, Rape Victim Advocates), the YWCA, Mujeres Latinas En Accion, Apna Ghar, and Casa Central. She said each organization is equipped to handle and care for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. 

The Network and its member organizations have started a campaign asking voters to contact their designated City Council member to urge them to amend Johnson’s proposed 2024 budget to reallocate funding for the expansion of the Crime Victim Service Unit toward community-based organizations.

CPD Supt. Larry Snelling, Garien Gatewood, Deputy Mayor of Community Safety and other CPD officers listen during a CCPSA meeting in Pilsen on Sept. 7. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Funding at the federal level for sexual trauma centers in Illinois under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) decreased by 50 percent in July 2023, meaning the city and state government will have to fill that gap, Negron explained. VOCA, or the Crime Victims Fund, was enacted in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan’s administration, and it’s the largest source of federal funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services in the U.S. and is funded through fines and penalties by people convicted in federal cases. 

The Network also tracks the call volume for the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline, and Negron said there has been an increase in calls since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The city has a domestic violence hotline, but all calls are redirected to the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline. 

“Domestic violence isn’t going away. A lot of folks are looking for other avenues to address domestic violence that are not related to the legal system or the criminal legal system. They’re looking for alternative avenues, which is why we’ve been such staunch supporters of Treatment, Not Trauma, and the Bring Chicago Home Coalition,” Negron said. 

“We know from working with survivors that they’re not always looking for a law enforcement response, or the legal response. They’re looking for other alternatives in support,” she added.

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.