The Chicago City Council’s Public Safety Committee is holding hearings around the city to get residents’ ideas about four proposals for a civilian oversight board. That agency would keep tabs on the police department and the city agencies that investigate misconduct complaints against police officers.
The plans overlap in purpose, but each is designed with different degrees of citizen involvement.
Two plans introduced by Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), the committee chair and a mayoral ally, are based on existing models in Los Angeles and Seattle.
The other two proposals are community driven and give citizens the ability to select and fire police leadership and shape policy.
Why do aldermen care what I have to think?
The public hearings that begin this week stem from demands for citizen involvement in shaping police reform following the 2015 court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Much of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second term has been defined by his handling of police reform after the video’s release. Aldermen reluctantly held a similar round of police oversight hearings in the summer of 2016 before they abolished the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the agency that investigated allegations of misconduct against police officers. But protesters and reformers accused the city of operating behind closed doors and said most people can’t afford to skip work in the middle of the day to testify at a City Council meeting.
A task force Emanuel assembled to investigate how complaints against officers are processed found a concerning lack of public accountability and highlighted data suggesting a culture of racially motivated policing. The report, led by former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, now a mayoral candidate, stressed the need for a civilian board designed by residents and staffed in a way that would ensure independence from the mayor and police department.
The City Council addressed some of those concerns when it disbanded IPRA. The agency that replaced IPRA, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), has a bigger budget and more investigative powers, but it lacks citizen involvement. Many of the investigators at COPA worked at IPRA.
How do these four proposals stack up?
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Committee Chair Reboyras introduced two plans based on existing models: The Chicago Civilian Oversight Commission (CCOC) mirrors the oversight agency in Los Angeles while the Chicago Community Police Commission (CCPC) mirrors the oversight agency in Seattle. In these two plans, the public has the least opportunity to be involved. Commission members would serve as liaisons between the department and the community, and their authority would be limited to an advisory role.
By contrast, two community-led plans would limit involvement by City Hall. The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) was drafted by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, an umbrella organization of more than a dozen community groups created for the sole purpose of designing a citizen oversight board. Their CCPSA proposal took two years to develop.
Meanwhile, the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) calls for a complete overhaul of the system. Authored by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the CPAC plan is the only one that would abolish COPA and remove the police department’s internal authority to investigate police officers. An elected board of 22 civilians, one from each police district, would handle investigations and have final authority to change police policies and procedures — without approval from aldermen or police leadership.
When and where are the public hearings?
One public hearing will be held in each region of the city. All but one will be held in the evening hours, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (The meeting scheduled for Saturday, May 19 starts in the afternoon at 1:00 p.m.)
- May 15 at Corliss High School, 821 E. 103rd St. (Far South Side, Roseland)
- May 19 at Gage Park High School, 5630 S. Rockwell St. (Southwest Side, Gage Park)*
- May 29 at Westinghouse College Prep, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd. (West Side, East Garfield Park)
- May 31 at Wilbur Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave. (Northwest Side, Portage Park)
- June 5 at Amundsen High School, 5110 N. Damen Ave. (North Side, Ravenswood)
Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @ClaudiaMorell.