More than 60 Chicagoans who were elected to 22 new Police District Councils took their oath Tuesday, beginning a new era of community oversight of a Police Department long plagued by abuses that have damaged trust and discouraged residents from working with cops.
The inauguration, held at the Harold Washington Cultural Center on the South Side, drew nearly a dozen elected officials and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who administered the oath. Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not attend, leaving the limelight to Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson.
“These miraculous individuals have made history to unite our city around values that we were raised on,” Johnson said.
The councils — set up by a 2021 ordinance that also created the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability — each consist of three members, who will serve four-year terms.
The councils are expected to hold monthly public meetings with police officers to relay concerns and ideas from district residents about policing and public safety. Other duties include expanding restorative justice and community policing efforts and nominating candidates for the community commission, a panel whose roles include recommending candidates for police superintendent.
“We started this journey in 2016,” said Mecole Jordan-McBride, the founding coordinator of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, a coalition that helped craft the ordinance. “We were … trying to figure out, and looking coast-to-coast around, what a commission could look like and doing so much research. And then we started drafting ordinances, and it just seemed impossible.”
“Yet here we are,” she exhaled. “And it is because of the hard work of so many people that joined together and refused to let go until we got the ending that we knew we wanted and deserved.”
Those people include Frank Chapman of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, who sat in the auditorium’s front row and received two standing ovations as speakers hailed his work.
Deondre Rutues, a community organizer elected to a West Side district council, told WBEZ it will be a challenge “to build some consensus around what people in this Austin community want to see.”
A priority issue, he said, is a police traffic-stop strategy in high-crime neighborhoods that Rutues called “driving while Black.”
Carmelita P. Earls, a retired Chicago Fire Department deputy district chief who will serve with Rutues on the Austin council, won her seat by a single vote.
“It’s a historical opportunity,” Earls said. “And now I must do my work and play my role, which is police accountability and public safety.”
Earls said the council’s early tasks will include educating Austin residents about a court-monitored police reform agreement known as the consent decree.
“And how do we bridge the trust gap?” Earls asked. “Right now, a lot of people have mixed emotions about the police … When you call the Police Department, no one wants to see them. Because it’s indicative that someone is going to jail.”
Johnson, who arrived to the inauguration late and left before the oath, did not take questions amid reports he had selected retired CPD patrol chief Fred Waller as the department’s interim superintendent.
Waller announced his retirement in 2020 after he was suspended for 28 days for using the word “rape” in a meeting at police headquarters to describe his feelings about officers being moved from patrol districts to other units.
Waller also helped snare a promotion for CPD’s Alvin Jones, a close associate of corrupt Sgt. Ronald Watts, who was arrested in 2012 with another member of their crew for stealing what they thought was drug money from an FBI informant.
Waller, the commander of their district, nominated Jones for sergeant 10 months after the arrests. Jones resigned from CPD last year upon release of a city report that recommended his firing and focused on his alleged extortion as part of the Watts crew.
Waller would take CPD’s reins when Johnson’s term begins May 15.
Johnson will choose a permanent superintendent from candidates forwarded to him by July 14 by the community commission.