Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s New Plan For Civilian Oversight Of Police Keeps Her In Charge

Chicago protests on street
A Chicago police officer walks ahead of protesters Wednesday, June 17, 2020, as they march around City Hall, demanding that Mayor Lori Lightfoot enact the ordinance for an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council, CPAC. The mayor submitted her own oversight plan Monday. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Chicago protests on street
A Chicago police officer walks ahead of protesters Wednesday, June 17, 2020, as they march around City Hall, demanding that Mayor Lori Lightfoot enact the ordinance for an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council, CPAC. The mayor submitted her own oversight plan Monday. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s New Plan For Civilian Oversight Of Police Keeps Her In Charge

Mayor Lori Lightfoot officially released her civilian oversight plan for the Chicago Police Department late Monday afternoon, a plan that largely keeps her at the helm of all major policy and hiring decisions.

The mayor’s proposal will be formally introduced at Wednesday’s monthly City Council meeting with plans for a vote by the City Council’s Public Safety Committee in June.

Unlike the existing, activist-led plans that have been languishing in City Council for years, Lightfoot’s plan would keep much of the existing powers of police oversight in the mayor’s office, including the final decision-making authority to hire or fire the police superintendent and the head of the city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Under Lightfoot’s proposal, which borrows aspects from the more expansive oversight plans pushed by activists, there would be two civilian oversight bodies that would largely serve as a liaison between the community and the department.

The so-called Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability would comprise seven members, appointed by the mayor and public safety committee. Each commissioner would receive an annual stipend of $12,000, with the president getting $15,000. They would have the responsibility of holding community meetings across the city whenever big policy changes are being considered or a new superintendent search occurs.

But unlike the other proposals, this oversight body would not have final authority in determining policy or selecting the superintendent. Instead, they would only make a recommendation to the mayor.

The second oversight body would be made up of representatives from each police district. Members would receive a monthly, $500 stipend. They would be tasked with holding monthly meetings and would largely work with the local police district commander.

The inaugural Commission would be tasked with determining how elections for these district councils should take place. The ordinance suggests the process coincide with the Local School Council (LSC) elections.

Earlier this morning, at an unrelated event, Lightfoot defended her decision to keep the mayor as the final decision maker on major hiring and firing of police brass, saying “the buck stops with me.”

“Public safety, I think, is one of the most critical responsibilities of any mayor. The relationship between the mayor and the police superintendent is critically important,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot had until the end of business Monday to submit her plan to the City Clerk so it could be introduced at Wednesday’s monthly City Council meeting. That’s after public safety chairman Chris Taliaferro, 29th Ward, made a commitment last Friday to holding an official vote on civilian oversight next month.

Community activists and police reformers had expressed outrage with Lightfoot and Taliaferro, accusing the mayor of dragging her feet on police reform despite being elected on that very issue, and the chairman of stalling any kind of vote on the two long standing proposals for police oversight.

The Civilian Police Accountability Council, or CPAC, ordinance was first introduced in 2016 in response to Laquan McDonald, the Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by a Chicago Police Officer. CPAC has gone through several re-writes to address legal concerns and has been the subject of more than a dozen city council “subject matter” hearings, but it has never been called for a vote.

The other civilian-led plan, called the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, or GAPA, took more than two years to draft after dozens of community groups banded together to draft a framework for civilian oversight, also in response to McDonald.

The frustration with delays came to a head last week when the sponsors behind CPAC and GAPA formally introduced a “unity” ordinance combining aspects of both proposals. The unity plan also includes a binding referendum that would give Chicago voters the ability to decide if they want an elected oversight board with the final authority to implement policy and hire the police superintendent. That plan has the rare support of the city council’s Black, Latino and Progressive caucuses.

Claudia Morell is a metro reporter for WBEZ. Follow @claudiamorell.