Effort to Stop Cop-Union Backed Push to Upend CPD Discipline System Stalls

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Key allies of Mayor Brandon Johnson delayed a scheduled vote Wednesday that would have reaffirmed the City Council’s rejection of an effort backed by the city’s largest police union to upend the system used for 60 years to punish officers.

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That delays what is likely to be a fierce legal fight that will determine whether, and how, city officials can hold officers accountable for serious misconduct.

The Chicago City Council voted 42-18 on Dec. 13 to extend the city’s agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, for an additional two years in return for bigger than expected raises and bonuses for officers.

At the same meeting, the council voted 17-33 to reject a decision by an arbitrator that officers facing termination or a suspension of at least a year have the right to choose how their cases were resolved. Those cases are now decided by the Chicago Police Board, which conducts its business in public; members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Chicago City Council.

It is unlikely that few, if any, officers would decide to give the police board the final say rather than an arbitrator, who must be appointed with the blessing of union leaders.

Instead of holding a vote on the measure as scheduled on Wednesday, Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd Ward) said he would present the matter to the City Council’s Workforce Development Committee. Johnson hand-picked Rodriguez to lead that committee.

An effort by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), an ally of the police union, to force a vote Wednesday failed, prompting union President John Catanzara to yell “get your checkbooks ready” as alderpeople left the chamber after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The union has already challenged the city’s rejection of the arbitrator’s decision in Cook County Circuit Court. A hearing in that case is set for Jan. 31, the same day the City Council is next scheduled to meet.

Rodriguez told reporters the Johnson administration was prepared to continue the fight.

“We’re talking about accountability of the most severe cases of discipline, a very small percentage of police officers here,” Rodriguez said. “The public’s demanding accountability.”

Rodriguez said he was hopeful that all 33 alderpeople who voted to reject the arbitrator’s decision would vote again to reject it, but was not certain that would have happened Wednesday. If four alderpeople change their votes, the system used for 60 years to punish officers will be upended.

After the City Council meeting, Johnson defended the decision to call off the planned vote as a decision to follow the city’s routine legislative process.

“Police officers who are accused of some of the most heinous acts of misconduct, the public deserves an opportunity to see how that process proceeds. Anything less than that is, it’s not transparent,” Johnson said.

After the City Council’s December vote rebuking his decision, arbitrator Edwin Benn was defiant and refused to reverse his decision, sending the matter back to the City Council. Benn warned the City Council they were wasting taxpayer money and urged them to reverse course.

“Now please don’t throw away potentially large sums of taxpayer money that could be used better elsewhere than on a legal fight you cannot win which you are undertaking to make a point that you have already made,” Benn wrote.

In other action, the City Council voted pay $5 million to the family of a former Marine who suffered a heart attack and later died after Chicago Fire Department paramedics left him on the floor of his West Side apartment. Ald. Bill Conway (34th Ward) and Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) cast the only votes against the settlement. Gardiner is a former firefighter.

In addition, a proposal backed by Johnson to functionally ban the use of natural gas to power most new Chicago homes and businesses failed to advance Wednesday after being blocked by Alds. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward). 

That proposal is now mired in the City Council’s Rules Committee, where it will need 26 votes to advance to a committee hearing and vote.

Less controversial was the confirmation of Ciere Boatright as the commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development. Dozens of alderpeople lauded her selection by the mayor, even those who routinely oppose his policies and initiatives.

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

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