Chicago May Finally Give Civilians Oversight Of The Police Department

David Brown Lori Lightfot
Former Dallas police Chief David Brown with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at City Hall on April 2, 2020, when she announced Brown as Chicago's new police superintendent. City of Chicago / City of Chicago
David Brown Lori Lightfot
Former Dallas police Chief David Brown with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at City Hall on April 2, 2020, when she announced Brown as Chicago's new police superintendent. City of Chicago / City of Chicago

Chicago May Finally Give Civilians Oversight Of The Police Department

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and advocates of a community-led plan for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department have reached an agreement on a compromise ordinance.

The deal announced Monday would give a civilian board a key role in hiring the next police superintendent, the head of the city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct and future members of the Chicago Police Board.

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety is scheduled to take up the agreement Tuesday. Pending passage, it goes to the full council the following day.

The main sticking point throughout the process has been what role the mayor should have. Three community-led plans sought to limit the mayor’s control over the Police Department, particularly on the issue of hiring and firing the heads of key public safety and oversight agencies.

After a weekend of negotiations with police reformers, including some aldermen, it appears that Lightfoot has agreed to relinquish some of those powers.

According to the draft ordinance released to aldermen Monday, a newly created Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability would take the lead in searching for and interviewing candidates for superintendent, a job that’s currently the responsibility of the mayor-appointed Police Board.

The inaugural commission would be made up of members appointed by the City Council’s Rules Committee. Eventually, a nominating committee made up of one representative from newly created district councils would recommend commissioners for the mayor to approve.

The commission would be tasked with holding at least four public hearings to gather input from residents before interviewing candidates and recommending their top three choices to the mayor. The rest of the process would continue the way it’s always been: The mayor makes a top choice, submits it to City Council and aldermen vote to confirm.

The commission wouldn’t have the unilateral power to fire the police superintendent, but it could start the process by introducing a “resolution of no confidence in the Superintendent or a Police Board member” with at least two-thirds support, the ordinance states.

The commission would have the authority to appoint the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability “with the advice and consent of the City Council.” But the commission wouldn’t need the council’s consent to fire them.

And when there’s a vacancy on the Police Board, the commission would identify candidates to fill the seat and offer its top three recommendations to the mayor, who would select one for City Council consideration.

The commission would also have the power to force a meeting with the superintendent and chief administrator, as well as the head of the Police Board and the public safety inspector general, a position created within the inspector general’s office to track and audit the Police Department.

The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability would be composed of seven members and an executive director. The first executive director would be appointed by the mayor.

The inaugural group of commissioners would serve a mix of two- and three-year terms, and their budget would be determined by the City Council, but it could not be less than 0.22% of the Police Department budget.

Later, all commissioners would be appointed to serve four-year terms. At least two of the commissioners must have at least 10 years experience as a practicing attorney. Two seats would be reserved for Chicagoans between the ages of 18 and 24 years old.

The commission would also have the responsibility of putting together a “Noncitizen Advisory Council” made up of undocumented residents to provide guidence and “perspectives” on policing in immigrant communities.

Like previous iterations, the compromise ordinance would also create district councils for each of the city’s 22 police districts. These councils would be made up of three members who would be elected to serve four-year terms. The councils would work with the local police commander and report back to the commission.

Previous versions of the ordinance had elections for the district councils running simultaneously with Local School Council elections. But in this version, candidates would file their intent to run with the Chicago Board of Elections. Like any other candidate for elected office, they’d have to gather signatures and file a formal petition. But the threshold for this seat is much lower, just 25 signatures.

The compromise ordinance is a milestone in the years-long effort to give civilians more control over the Police Department and the latest in a series of agreements that have been made since Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, introduced the first ordinance in 2016 shortly after a judge forced the city to release the dashcam video of a police officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a Black teen, 16 times.

And it was Lightfoot who suggested the need for a civilian oversight board when she served as the head of then-Mayor Rahm Emanual’s Police Accountability Task Force.

But Rosa’s plan, called CPAC, was considered too extreme at the time. He revised it multiple times to address those concerns.

And another ordinance, from a coalition called the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, or GAPA, was being offered as an alternative. Responding to inaction from the prior and current administrations, CPAC and GAPA combined to create the Empowering Communities for Public Safety Commision. That group had been negotiating with the administration over the weekend to come up with the compromise ordinance.

When it seemed like the Empowering Communities ordinance was gaining enough council sponsors to pass, Lightfoot offered her own oversight plan that included components of the various groups’ plan but stopped short of relinquishing the power to hire and fire the police superintendent.