Advocates of long-stalled efforts to put an elected board of Chicago residents in charge of the Chicago Police Department hoped in June that it would get new life amid a nationwide push to hold police officers accountable for misconduct after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
But despite weeks of sustained protests against police brutality, Chicago’s elected officials haven't even held a hearing on the proposal, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot has yet to make the establishment of an elected board a priority — keeping the effort mired in legislative limbo.
In the wake of the outcry prompted by the decision of a Kentucky grand jury Wednesday not to indict three police officers for their role in the death of Breonna Taylor, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus called for the “creation of complete civilian oversight of the police.”
That call came days after Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) released a letter signed by 22 aldermen calling for a hearing on proposals to would create an elected board to oversee the police department “as soon as possible” but no later than Dec. 16, when the Chicago City Council is scheduled to meet for the last time in 2020.
“It is my firm belief in order to build any semblance of trust between the communities that are most impacted by police violence and those entrusted with their safety, we need a system that holds the bad actors accountable,” Vasquez wrote. “The fact that we have not had this conversation after the murder of George Floyd that led to the civil unrest across the nation is truly shameful.”
Vasquez said in a tweet that it was time for discussions to end, and for aldermen to act.
“Rather than platitudes/photo ops, how about we as a city set the standard for police accountability?” Vasquez said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot remains committed to working with aldermen and reform advocates to “establish one citywide, civilian-led oversight body to further increase accountability and community voice at every level — from local police districts to leadership across our public safety agencies,” according to a statement from her office.
“Mayor Lightfoot has been clear that implementing civilian oversight over the Chicago Police Department is an essential component for building greater transparency, accountability and trust between our law enforcement and the residents they serve,” according to the statement from the mayor's office.
However, Lightfoot did not include the push for an elected police oversight board as part of a batch of reforms she introduced in early June and vowed to implement in 90 days. Reforms to police training, officer wellness and community relations are now in place, according to her office.
At the time, Lightfoot told reporters that “two or three sticking points” remained in negotiations.
In 2016, Lightfoot led the Police Accountability Task Force formed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the wake of the outcry caused by the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a police officer. The task force’s first recommendation was to create a “Community Safety Oversight Board, allowing the community to have a powerful platform and role in the police oversight system.”
Lightfoot was working to push her plan for the oversight board through the City Council when it ran aground amid a dispute between the mayor and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) over who should have final say on policy. Then the pandemic hit.
Taliaferro and police reform activists contend the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability should have the final say on policy disputes between the police department and its two oversight agencies. The mayor wants to retain that power.
Key demands of police reform activists remain unfulfilled under the mayor’s proposal. The seven-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability would not have the power to hire or fire the police superintendent or chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, according to the mayor’s proposal. It also wouldn’t have the power to select members of the Police Board.
The mayor will pick from “a short list of candidates” developed by the commission for those top jobs. If the mayor rejects all of the recommendations, the commission must generate a new list, according to the proposal.
All must be approved by the City Council.
The commission will also be charged with annually “recommending goals for the superintendent and the police department, the chief administrator and COPA as well as the Police Board president and the Police Board,” according to the proposal.
The measure backed by the mayor would also create councils in each of the city’s 22 police districts, made up of three elected members and several unelected members “to ensure engagement of the full community,” according to the mayor’s office.
One elected member from each district council would serve on a committee to nominate two candidates for each seat on the Community Commission. The mayor would pick from the two finalists, and that selection must be confirmed by the City Council, according to the mayor’s office.
A majority of the Community Commission members “will be selected based on their expertise in areas like civil rights, social work, work with immigrant and undocumented communities, and law,” according to the mayor’s office.
Two of the seven commissioners must be between the ages of 18-24 and have experience with police misconduct, according to the mayor’s office. That was a key demand of activists pushing for civilian oversight of the police.