The Chicago City Council on Tuesday voted to approve a new $700 million contract with the city’s 12,000 rank-and-file police officers.
But it wasn’t without opposition from aldermen who said the pay increases were too generous while not going far enough to include police accountability measures in the contract language. Eight aldermen rejected the deal.
“I fear that once we give the FOP that big pay raise, which is going to be very costly and it’s going to come at a major big cost to taxpayers,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward. “The incentive is just not going to be there for them to continue to work with our city, to get the rest of those reforms done via this contract.”
But Ald. Rod Sawyer, former chair of the City Council’s Black Caucus, defended the contract saying it’s the best deal the City Council is going to get on reforms.
Sawyer said many of the reforms that the Black Caucus identified in a resolution following the police murder of Laquan McDonald have been included and that additional reforms can be negotiated later. “And it’s true that the police do stand a benefit,” Sawyer said. “But I think the larger benefit is for the citizens of the city of Chicago, which has a fair contract, a more responsive police force.”
Nearly 80% of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago lodge had previously voted to approve the contract.
WBEZ took a look at some of the most important parts of the city’s contract with its largest police union.
Five years worth of retroactive raises
Chicago’s beat cops have been working for four years without a contract, which means four years without a raise, since their previous deal expired in 2017.
Lightfoot has been critical of her predecessor, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for not getting a deal done while he was in office.
“It is unfortunate that when we came into office, this contract was already expired by two years, and then it took another two years to get this done.” Lightfoot said.
To make up for lost time, the new contract includes an immediate 10.5% raise for officers to cover the past four years. Officers will also be compensated for the raises they missed out on with retroactive paychecks worth thousands of dollars. Those raises will be prorated for officers who joined the force after July of 2017.
Documents provided to City Council members by the mayor’s office put the price tag of the retroactive raises at $378 million.
Annual raises until 2025
The new deal includes 2.5% annual raises for officers on Jan. 1 of 2022, 2023 and 2024, with a final 2% raise before the contract expires on June 30, 2025. Combined, the retroactive and prospective raises come out to a 20% increase in officer pay.
The size of the contract has received criticism from those seeking to abolish or defund the police because it is a significant raise at a time when police budgets have come under intense scrutiny.
But the deal came as a relief to officers who have gone years without a raise and who say they are experiencing historically low morale. And many City Council members have called it a good financial deal for the city.
“This is the best deal possible for the union, for the city to move forward and to give us labor peace for both us and our Police Department,” said 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez, a frequent Lightfoot critic.
An allowance for anonymous complaints against officers
For the first time in 40 years, the city will be allowed to investigate citizen complaints against officers without a sworn affidavit from the person making the complaint.
The issue was a major one for police reformers, Lightfoot and the police union. FOP Chicago President John Catanzara told WBEZ last summer that the union was not going to budge on any accountability measures. He told the Chicago Sun-Times they’d only be willing to allow anonymous complaints if the city agreed to ditch its residency requirement and allow officers to go on strike, two huge concessions that did not end up in the final deal.
Officers and their supporters have argued that requiring complainants to sign their name and swear to the truth of complaints prevents false accusations from hurting good cops. Reformers say the requirement discourages people understandably fearful of police from making legitimate complaints.
A change in state law earlier this year paved the way for anonymous complaints against officers, and Chicago’s new agreement allows them, with a caveat.
Anonymous complaints against officers will now need to be “certified” by the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) or the Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA). That official will be required to review “objective verifiable evidence” and then sign off before an investigation can begin in earnest.
Civil rights organizations have said that required certification means the change is “reform in name only.”
Changes to rules when potential misconduct is caught on tape
The previous contract mandated that officers be allowed to change their statements to city investigators after viewing video of their actions in incidents involving potential misconduct. The new deal still allows that, however, under the new contract COPA or BIA will be allowed to charge an officer with lying if their initial statement is contradicted by audio or video evidence.
The contract mandates that investigators “consider all original statements, and any subsequent statements, including amended or modified statements, for purposes of determining whether an Officer willfully made a false statement.”
Critics have blasted those changes as not nearly enough, arguing they still make it too difficult to charge officers with lying.
Adam Gross, with the group Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, said the contract has some important improvements to police accountability, but he believes it is a missed opportunity.
“I think that we all benefit from greater accountability, civilians and police officers all benefit from there being greater accountability,” Gross said. “So I wish that this contract would go farther.”
Lightfoot said the city will be continuing to negotiate with the union over reforming the accountability system.
“We’re continuing to negotiate with the FOP on a number of other things that we fought with the supervisors union on and won through arbitration,” Lightfoot said. “So this is the start, it is not an end. But it’s an incredibly powerful set of concessions that are necessary for us to keep building on police reform and accountability.”
Gross said he was skeptical those talks would be fruitful now that the union had gotten its raises.