Deal on Elected Board to Oversee Chicago Police Close: Aldermen, Mayor

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

Supporters of a long-stalled plan crafted by a coalition of community groups that would put an elected board of Chicago residents in charge of the Chicago Police Department said Friday they are close to an agreement with Mayor Lori Lightfoot that could pave the way for a final vote next week.

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Lightfoot said in a statement Friday that there had been “significant progress” in negotiations over a deal.

“I look forward to continuing the conversation over the weekend in an effort to reach consensus on a path forward,” Lightfoot said.

That is a notable change from June 25, when Lightfoot told reporters that the plan crafted by community groups was a “backdoor attempt to defund the police department by taking control of the policymaking authority.” 

The headway in negotiations prompted the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Friday to put off a vote on a proposal crafted by a coalition of community groups and endorsed by the council’s Progressive Caucus, Black Caucus and Latino Caucus as well as a counterproposal from Lightfoot.

Aldermen agreed to negotiate with the mayor and her staff through the weekend, and scheduled another Public Safety Committee meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday in the hopes that an agreement can be finalized in time for a vote of the full Chicago City Council on Wednesday.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) said Friday trying to pass such a complicated piece of legislation on such an accelerated timeline “is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

The City Council is scheduled to take its annual summer break in August.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), a lead sponsor of the proposal crafted by community groups, said talks are 80% and 85% complete, and a final deal would be only “a little different” than the proposal crafted by community groups.

“We are closer than we have ever been before,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward). “But there’s still a lot of ground to cover.”

Mayoral allies blocked a vote on the proposal from the coalition last month, even after supporters dropped 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’s office released a statement from the coalition that crafted the proposal they dubbed the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance, or ECPS.

“Mayor Lightfoot’s latest proposal is close to what the ECPS Coalition would like to enact — the closest we’ve ever been,” according to the statement. “However, there are still some glaring differences between the mayor’s latest proposal and our ECPS ordinance, which leave unsettled the right of communities to have a decisive say in their own safety.”

The ECPS ordinance would create a two-tiered system of accountability for police officers by focusing on each of the 22 police districts as well as citywide. It would recommend candidates for police superintendent and the Police Board to the mayor.

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.

In addition, the coalition’s proposal would allow the elected oversight board to pass a resolution of no confidence in the superintendent and any member of the Chicago Police Board with a two-thirds vote. That could trigger City Council action.

A council made up of non-citizens would advise the commission on issues impacting Chicago’s immigrant and undocumented community, according to the 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.

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

The counterproposal from the mayor would give the board’s elected members only the authority to advise the mayor.

The revised proposal under negotiation would give the board the final say on policy for the Chicago Police Department but would give the mayor a veto that could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Chicago City Council.

The fight over who should have the final say over policy for the Chicago Police Department has been the crucial sticking point in negotiations between Lightfoot and a coalition of community organizations determined to fundamentally shift control of the Police Department from the mayor’s office to elected members of the community since March 2020.

The original proposal from the Grassroots Association for Police Accountability, known as GAPA, gave the board the final say on policy decisions. Even though Lightfoot backed that plan during her 2019 campaign for mayor and vowed to pass it during her first 100 days in office, she demanded that the mayor have the final say on policy just before a vote of the City Council.

In September 2020, she dropped her support of the plan from GAPA entirely, and nine months later introduced her own proposal, which has failed to win more than nominal support from aldermen.

Lightfoot’s decision to drop her support of GAPA put her at odds with several of her allies on the Chicago City Council, and ultimately led to supporters of GAPA joining forces with the supporters of a competing proposal known as CPAC to craft the ECPS compromise.

Typically, a substantive piece of legislation like the creation of an elected board to oversee the police department would be unlikely to pass without the support of the mayor — but the City Council may be poised to buck Lightfoot, who was elected after leading the city’s response to the police murder of Laquan McDonald and vowed during the campaign to reform the beleaguered Chicago Police Department once and for all.

However, past the midpoint of her four-year term, Lightfoot’s standing has been weakened by the uproar surrounding a botched police raid that left a social worker naked and begging officers for help as well as the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

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

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