Long-Delayed Push to Create Police Oversight Board Stalls Without Lightfoot’s Interim Picks

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has yet to name seven Chicago residents to serve on an interim commission overseeing the Chicago Police Department, halting a long-delayed push to rebuild trust in the scandal-plagued agency.

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The Chicago City Council voted to create the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability more than a year ago after a contentious debate between Lightfoot and alderpeople who demanded the board have real authority over the Chicago Police Department.

Every deadline set by that ordinance — approved on a 36-13 vote — has been missed, enraging supporters who believe the commission is the city’s best chance to build trust in officers and police brass and put an end to repeated allegations of misconduct.

Frank Chapman, field representative for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said the commission will create “the most democratic system of civilian oversight in the country.”

“We are insisting that the mayor immediately appoint this citywide commission,” Chapman said.

In May, the City Council’s Rules Committee recommended 14 Chicagoans to serve on an interim commission. Lightfoot must pick seven members to serve on the commission until the next municipal election, which is seven months away.

Lightfoot told reporters Wednesday her office was evaluating those nominations.

“What I think I have an obligation to do is to make sure that we have done our diligence in understanding who these folks are so we make picks that make sense,” Lightfoot said, adding that she wanted to ensure “balance and representation.”

Lightfoot said it would not be correct to assume that the City Council completed a “full vet” of those nominated to serve on the interim commission. 

Lightfoot did not respond to a question about why it has taken her office two months to pick the members of the interim commission, or whether she was concerned that the delay could interfere with the election — set for February 2023 — of district councils. 

Members of those councils will oversee each of Chicago’s 22 police districts and nominate seven people — to be confirmed by the mayor and Chicago City Council — to serve on the commission that would oversee the entire department and city.

Candidates for those councils can start collecting nominating signatures on Aug. 30, and must file their petitions no later than Nov. 16.

District council members will be paid $500 per month. The president of the citywide commission would be paid $15,000 annually, with the other members earning $12,000.

The ordinance approved by the Chicago City Council in July 2021 that created the commission called for the mayor to appoint members of the interim commission by Jan. 1, 2022, which means the effort is nearly seven months behind schedule.

Although Lightfoot promised during the 2019 mayoral campaign to create the oversight board during her first 100 days in office, Lightfoot soon broke with the police reform groups and City Council members working to craft the commission. The main sticking point was Lightfoot’s insistence that she have the final say on policy for the department, telling reporters she “wears the jacket” for public safety in Chicago.

The compromise approved by the Chicago City Council, known as the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance, or ECPS, gives the commission the final say on policy for the Chicago Police Department — but it also gives the mayor a veto that could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Chicago City Council.

In addition, the commission will have the power to hire the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, known as COPA, which is the agency charged with probing police misconduct.

The commission will conduct a search for a new police superintendent when that position becomes vacant.

In addition, the commission will have the power 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.

Five of the seven commissioners must have lived in Chicago for at least five years and have expertise in the areas of law, public policy, social work, psychology, mental health, public safety, community organizing, civil rights or advocacy on behalf of marginalized communities, according to the rules for the commission.

The interim commission must be made up of at least two North Side residents, two South Side residents and two West Side residents, according to the rules.

In addition, at least two commissioners must be attorneys with expertise in civil rights, civil liberties, or criminal defense or prosecution. Another commissioner must have experience in community organizing. Two other commissioners must be between the ages of 18 and 26, according to the rules.

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

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