A coalition of activists, faith-based organizations and labor groups is celebrating their success drafting candidates who won election to the newly formed Chicago police district councils. Mail-in ballots are still being counted for the 66 District Council seats, but the Empowering Communities for Public Safety coalition said they helped 42 of the incoming members.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the largest union representing Chicago cops, endorsed 19 people across the city and at least eight of them looked like they would win their elections, but a few more races were still too close to call as of Thursday afternoon.
A city ordinance adopted in 2021 created three-member councils in each of Chicago’s 22 police districts. The councils will hold monthly meetings and bring the concerns of neighborhood residents to police. They will also play a key role in providing oversight of the department.
Frank Chapman, an organizer with ECPS, has spent decades fighting for community control of the police. He said the candidates their organization helped, weren’t all directly involved in progressive politics or activism, but do come from the community and have direct experience with being policed. “They’re going to make decisions that fit their interests. And that’s what this law was passed for,” Chapman said.
Dion McGill, was on his way to victory Thursday in the 7th police district, which includes the Englewood neighborhood. McGill attended training by ECPS and said he saw the opportunity to be a council member as a chance to reform policing.
“Door knocking during this election season, people would always say to me, ‘Be safe!’ whether it was three in the afternoon or 6 p.m. in the evening. So many people in Englewood are afraid of their own community. That saddens me deeply. We need better policing, we need police who treat people like people, we need to build community that is restorative and not punitive,” McGill said.
Chapman said the FOP’s efforts to “undermine” the election of members who are interested in accountability and oversight failed. The FOP declined to comment.
Jason Huff, a council member-elect in the 8th police district, which includes the Archer Heights and Garfield Ridge neighborhoods, does not have a law enforcement background, but was backed by the FOP. Huff is part of a neighborhood watch group and said he knows every profession has bad apples, but most officers are good people who want public safety. He hopes to help build up trust between police and residents in his neighborhood, so they can help law enforcement solve crimes.
“I believe that we can bridge that gap of trust, it will only benefit the city in the long term and the communities in the 8th district,” Huff said.
Perhaps the most crucial role council members will play will be nominating people to a citywide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. That seven-member commision will have oversight of the police budget and policies and play a central role in selecting and removing Chicago’s police superintendent.
Steve Spagnolo, a leading candidate in the 17th district council in Albany Park, said he ran because of his experience with gun violence. He lost his father to a shooting when he was 3 years old and said the crime was never solved. Spanglo said the councils will hold officers accountable and “give the community a voice in how they want to see their neighborhoods policed.”
“Do we have carte blanche to achieve everything we will want to in this position, no, but we will have a voice that previously was absent,” Spagnolo said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the police districts in which Dion McGill and Jason Huff ran. McGill ran in the 7th district and Huff in the 8th. We regret the errors.
Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ criminal justice reporter. Follow her at @shannon_h.