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Mayor's Office, Fire Commissioner Say Review Of City Policy On Gender-Based Violence Is Needed, With Firefighter-EMT Accused Of Rape Still On The Job

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There was major fallout from city officials Wednesday, amid revelations that a firefighter-EMT is still on the job after being charged with raping a woman he knew.

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and new Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt both reacted with statements Wednesday – less than 24 hours after we reported firefighter Erik Zuma was still on the job despite rape and domestic battery charges against him.

Both declined a request for an interview, but both promised action and change.

Both also reacted not only to the fact that Zuma was still on active duty out of a firehouse at 44th Street and Ashland Avenue in Back of the Yards despite the charges, but also to the Fire Department's initial response. They also reacted to the initial response from the Fire Department.

In a statement Tuesday, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said, "These allegations are deeply concerning, and the Chicago Fire Department is actively cooperating with CPD on its investigation."

When asked, he indicated there was no set discipline policy for firefighters charged with violent and domestic crimes, adding it depended on the circumstances and employees' position.

"For the Fire Department to come out with that was just absolutely ignorant," said Amanda Pyron, who heads the Network Advocating Against Domestic Violence.

Pyron said she is clear the mayor stepped up. Mayor Lightfoot said based on the CFD's initial response, it is clear that "education on this issue must continue within city government."

She is promising a "workplace training plan" and a "review of city policies" regarding gender-based and domestic violence.

"It's not just about training. It's not just about reviewing the policies," Pyron said. "It's about accountability for the perpetrators - and that's where I think in the past, the city's fallen short."

The statement from Mayor Lightfoot's office, which appears in full below, also takes particular issue with a Fire Department spokesman's comment to the Chicago Tribune that the fact that the sexual assault of which Zuma is accused was "domestic" in nature "does make a difference" when it comes to the decision of allowing him to go on working:

"Mayor Lightfoot takes gender-based violence very seriously and has prioritized supporting victims through dedicated staffing, funding and focus on this form of violence in our City. This growing crisis does not get the public attention it warrants—an issue that is all too often perpetuated by how we describe, react to and handle instances of it. The statement attributed to one of Chicago Fire Department's spokesmen was deeply offensive to the Mayor personally and does not reflect our values as a city. The characterization of the alleged crime as merely a "domestic" as an explanation for why the CFD was not taking decisive action shows a profound lack of judgment and accountability. The Mayor has made it clear to the CFD Commissioner that the CFD response was highly problematic and cannot stand.

"In light of CFD's initial response to this matter, it is clear that education on this issue must continue within City government. Mayor Lightfoot will be releasing, later this year, her strategic plan on gender-based violence that is current in planning. The plan will include a two-pronged approach to tackle gender-based violence for City employees. First, will be the creation of a more robust sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and violence in the workplace training plan that will be implemented for all City employees. Second, there will be a review of City policies in response to sexual misconduct and violence in the workplace.

"The Mayor's office looks forward to CFD's continued cooperation as this investigation continues and we pray that the victim and her family are able to find strength and healing during this incredibly difficult time."

Commissioner Nance-Holt acknowledged the CFD's initial response to Zuma's case was "offensive" to many, and suggested the department does not take gender-based violence seriously. This is her complete statement:

"The Chicago Fire Department takes gender-based violence, including sexual assault, and violence of any kind extremely seriously. I am aware of previous statements attributed to a CFD spokesperson regarding this matter. I understand that those comments were offensive and suggested that the CFD did not take the allegations against one of our members seriously. Those comments do not reflect the values of the Department or the seriousness with which we must take all allegations of gender-based violence. At my direction, the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) investigation will be expedited while Chicago Police Department conducts their concurrent criminal investigation. The allegations made against this employee are extremely serious, deeply disturbing, and do not reflect the values of the Chicago Fire Department or the City of Chicago. The employee in question has been removed from field responsibilities pending the outcome of both investigations and further action will be swiftly taken following the findings of IAD and the CPD. CFD is also working closely with the Mayor's Office to enhance a whole-of-government approach to gender-based violence and will continue to be engaged as both a participant and a learner to improve our role in addressing gender-based violence."

Zuma has been removed from field responsibilities, and Nance-Holt is ordering an expedited internal affairs investigation.

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