Lightfoot Holds Off Revolt on CPD Oversight as Allies Block Vote on Elected Board

Supporters of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety plan call for more police accountability during a rally April 21, 2021. (WTTW News)Supporters of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety plan call for more police accountability during a rally April 21, 2021. (WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot held off a City Council revolt Friday, marshalling enough support to prevent a vote on a long-stalled plan to put an elected board of Chicago residents in charge of the Chicago Police Department.

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The City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted 10-9 not to consider a revised proposal crafted by a coalition of community groups and endorsed by the council’s Progressive Caucus, Black Caucus and Latino Caucus. 

That vote means the measure will remain mired in limbo — even though Lightfoot endorsed the measure crafted by a coalition of community organizations under the umbrella of the Grassroots Association for Police Accountability, known as GAPA, during her 2019 campaign for mayor and vowed to pass it during her first 100 days in office. She dropped her support nine months ago.

The proposal was revised just before Friday’s committee meeting when supporters realized that they did not have enough votes to advance it to the full City Council meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward).

The coalition made a “tactical decision” to drop a provision that would ask voters to give the 11-member board the power to hire and fire the superintendent, negotiate contracts with the police department’s labor unions and set the Chicago Police Department’s budget through a binding referendum, Ramirez-Rosa said. 

Supporters had expected that change to win enough votes to set up a final vote by the full City Council, but fell two votes short.

“This was a sleight of hand to delay a vote on an ordinance that had the votes to pass,” said Ramirez-Rosa, vowing to push for a vote before Wednesday’s meeting, or try to force a vote on the council floor without a committee vote.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward), a former police sergeant and the mayor’s hand-picked choice to lead the Public Safety Committee, said the change — sent to aldermen 30 minutes before Friday’s hearing — had come too late to be considered by aldermen Friday morning. The revised measure also eliminated a plan for an interim board.

However, that defies longstanding council tradition that allows aldermen to routinely vote on measures that are significantly revised with much less notice. 

For example, members of the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations Committee voted Wednesday to spend millions of dollars in grant funds that were not included in the original version of the measure posted online for members of the public to review and only announced minutes before the vote.

Taliaferro, who has endorsed the mayor’s plan for an elected oversight board, joined forces with Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward), a former firefighter, to block the vote.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th Ward), one of the lead sponsors of the coalition’s proposal, called Taliaferro’s actions “disappointing,” but said he would keep pushing for a vote.

Aldermen also took no vote on Lightfoot’s proposal to create a seven-member civilian board to oversee the Chicago Police Department, and indication that it did not have enough votes to win the endorsement of the Public Safety Committee.

Lightfoot’s plan would give the board’s elected members only the authority to advise the mayor, keeping the power to run the embattled police department concentrated in the mayor’s office even after decades of scandals, misconduct and brutality.

An elected oversight board is the last major reform proposed — but not implemented — in the wake of the 2014 police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

The coalition’s proposal, dubbed the Empowering Communities for Public Safety plan, would create a two-tiered system of accountability for police officers by focusing on each of the 22 police districts as well as citywide.

The elected board would have the power to hire and fire the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, known as COPA, which is the agency charged with probing police misconduct, according to the coalition’s proposal. The board would have the final say on policy disputes between the police department and its two oversight agencies: COPA and the Police Board, which disciplines officers. A two-thirds vote of the City Council could overturn a decision by the commission.

In addition, the coalition’s proposal would give the elected oversight board the power to trigger City Council hearings and action with a no-confidence vote in the superintendent, the president of the Police Board and the head of COPA. 

Lightfoot opposes all of those provisions, repeatedly saying that ceding that kind of authority would make it impossible for the mayor to keep Chicago safe.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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