Once Again, Chicago Police Reform Proposals Get Delayed

Protest against Chicago Police
Hundreds gather in front of the Chicago Police Department to protest in this file photo from Sept. 24, 2020. An activist-led proposal to create a civilian oversight committee with power was delayed, again, on Friday. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Protest against Chicago Police
Hundreds gather in front of the Chicago Police Department to protest in this file photo from Sept. 24, 2020. An activist-led proposal to create a civilian oversight committee with power was delayed, again, on Friday. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Once Again, Chicago Police Reform Proposals Get Delayed

A long-awaited plan that would give community members more control over the Chicago Police Department has again been delayed, after aldermen declined to vote Friday on the activist-crafted plan that’s been hashed out and debated on for years.

The plan’s passage would have been a blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has her own proposal for civilian oversight that keeps her largely in control of the police department. Aldermen in the city’s public safety committee delayed a vote on the activist-crafted ordinance that proponents say was slightly tweaked overnight ahead of the committee, specifically to gain the number of votes needed to pass.

But 10 out of 19 aldermen voted to table the substitute plan, essentially not taking a vote on it at all, saying they needed more time to consider it. It’ll remain in committee until further notice, as opposed to advancing to the full city council next week as proponents had hoped would finally happen.

However, a progressive alderman pushing for the plan, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, said he’ll push for a special committee meeting ahead of Wednesday’s full city council meeting, or try to force a vote on it then without committee approval.

Activist-led plans have been languishing in City Council for years, with one getting more than a dozen subject matter hearings but never a vote. The plan in committee Friday was a compromise ordinance crafted from two previously competing plans by activists from the groups GAPA (Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability) and CPAC (Civilian Police Accountability Council).

That plan would create a commission that would have final say over police policy, and would be able to take a “no-confidence” vote in Chicago’s police superintendent, allowing the City Council to remove the superintendent if supported by two-thirds of aldermen. It would also allow the commission to appoint (with council approval) or to remove the chief administrator of the agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA.

That version of the so-called “unity ordinance” is weaker than one on the table just a day ago. A previous version would’ve created a binding referendum to allow Chicago voters to decide whether to strengthen the powers of the civilian commission, giving it full authority to hire or fire the police superintendent, but sponsors of the ordinance knew they would not have the votes to pass it.

A plan from the mayor was also up for a vote Friday, but, according to the committee’s chairman, Lightfoot’s office asked for her ordinance to be held in committee without a vote Friday. Lightfoot’s plan would keep much of the existing powers of police oversight in the mayor’s office, including appointment or removal of the police superintendent and the head of COPA.

Under her proposal, the mayor would take recommendations from a “Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability” which would comprise seven mayoral-appointed members. That commission would hold community meetings when big decisions are underway, but would not have final decision-making authority.

The mayor’s plan would include a second oversight body, which would be elected, and would create representatives from each police district to work with local police and hold monthly meetings.

Activists have criticized Lightfoot for dragging her feet on her campaign promise to reform civilian police oversight of the police. She released her much-anticipated plan at the eleventh hour last month, the day it was due to the city clerk in order to be introduced at last month’s council meeting and get a seat at Friday’s public safety committee.

WBEZ’s Claudia Morell contributed reporting.

Mariah Woelfel covers city government at WBEZ. You can follow her at @MariahWoelfel.