The union representing Chicago’s rank and file cops is throwing money into races for seats on newly formed police district councils in an attempt to extend the union’s power into a domain created specifically to oversee the officers who make up the union’s membership.
The councils were created in 2021 after years of lobbying by activists seeking to give Chicago residents greater control over the Police Department. The first ever candidates will be on the ballot in next month’s municipal election.
The Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 paid $25,000 to two election attorneys, according to filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections. The lawyers, Frank Avila and Pericles Abbasi, appeared for the union downtown at a Friday hearing attempting to kick candidates off the ballot in races in at least three police districts.
“It just shows that they don’t see the councils as a way to improve safety,” said Veronica Arreola, a candidate in the 24th police district in Rogers Park on the city’s north side. “They’re just trying to throw longtime community organizers off the ballot.”
Arreola’s nomination was challenged by Mitchell Rose, another candidate running in the 24th police district who is supported by the police union, said Abbasi, Rose’s attorney.
At the hearing, Abbasi said he was representing eight people in district council races. State records show he received a $10,000 payment from the police union in early December.
Abbasi is also running as a candidate in the 25th police district in Grand Central on the northwest side and said the union helped him collect signatures to get on the ballot.
Avila, the other FOP attorney at the hearing, received a $15,000 payment from the union in early November. He did not say how many candidates he was representing but said the FOP is trying to push forward candidates they “believe will be fair rather than have an agenda that’s anti-police.”
John Catanzara, the president of Chicago’s FOP lodge 7, did not return messages seeking comment.
The city ordinance establishing the district councils was signed into law in the summer of 2021 following decades of police violence, from torture under the notorious commander Jon Burge to the deaths of Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald at the hands of police officers.
“We have created a law that gives people in communities of color an opportunity to elect folks to district councils that represent the communities, not the police,” said Frank Chapman, a long-time civil rights activist who spent years pushing for the new councils. “In other words, it empowers them to address police misconduct.”
Chicagoans elected to the councils will have the power to nominate candidates to the city-wide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA). In turn, the CCPSA has the authority to shape police policy and nominate candidates for police superintendent as well as other key positions.
“That’s where the significant power is, in that the district councilors nominate candidates and the mayor has to pick a candidate they nominate,” Abbasi said. “So I understand [the police union] wanting to have candidates that will listen to them on the City Council and district councils.”
Election attorney Ed Mullen is defending a number of candidates whose nominating petitions were challenged by people represented by Avila and Abbasi.
Mullen said the police union has a right to get involved in the election, “but I think there has to be more transparency in the process so that people who are voting understand whether they’re voting for someone supported by the police.”
Anthony Driver, the interim president of the CCPSA, said the ordinance establishing the district councils calls for civic participation. He said that includes a union that represents civilians.
“We didn’t fight to pass this ordinance so that only one group of people can have a voice. We did it so all groups of people can have a voice,” Driver said. “However, it’s my hope that people who have views that represent equity and justice for all Chicagoans will be the group that wins out.”
Anna Savchenko is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow @annasavchenkoo