City Council Votes 18-32 to Reaffirm Decision to Reject Push to Upend CPD Discipline System

The Chicago City Council voted 18-32 Thursday to reaffirm its decision to reject an effort backed by the city’s largest police union to upend the system used for 60 years to punish officers, triggering what is likely to be a fierce legal fight that will determine whether, and how, city officials can hold officers accountable for serious misconduct.

After a spirited debate, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) — once the leading progressive voice on the City Council — was the only alderperson to change their vote since the December vote, narrowing the margin of victory for Mayor Brandon Johnson to just two votes.

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As part of negotiations over the city’s labor agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, an arbitrator previously ruled that officers facing termination or a suspension of at least a year had the right to choose whether to have an arbitrator or the Chicago Police Board decide their fate.

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.

After the City Council meeting, Mayor Brandon Johnson told reporters he was ready for the court fight.

“The city of Chicago is clear that in order to restore, and in many cases not even just restore but build trust, having an open transparent process that’s what the people of Chicago deserve and they want,” Johnson said. 

The Chicago Police Board holds its meetings in public and allows input from Chicagoans, while arbitrations take place behind closed doors and are not open to public scrutiny.

Waguespack joined Alds. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), Anthony Beale (9th Ward), Peter Chico (10th Ward), Nicole Lee (11th Ward), Marty Quinn (13th Ward), Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), Derrick Curtis (18th Ward), Matt O’Shea (19th Ward), Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward), Felix Cardona (31st Ward), Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), Nicolas Sposato (38th Ward), Samantha Nugent (39th Ward), Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward), Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) and Debra Silverstein (50th Ward) to allow officers to choose arbitration rather than a police board hearing.

The dispute prompted a Cook County judge to block the Police Board from weighing whether to fire Chicago Police Officer Eric Stillman for shooting and killing 13-year-old Adam Toledo after a brief foot chase in March 2021 as scheduled on Monday, sending Stillman’s case into limbo along with nearly 20 other cases.

Ald. Desmon Yancy (5th Ward) said police board hearings are critical to hold officers accountable for a wide range of misconduct, recalling when a group of officers sang an offensive song as he walked with several generations of his family.

Allowing serious misconduct cases to be decided by an arbitrator would be a “step backwards” in transparency and is designed to roll back changes made in the wake of high-profile police murders, Yancy said.

Yancy dismissed arguments from Police Union President John Catanzara that state law requires Chicago police officers to be granted the right to arbitration, just like all other city employees.

“Slavery was legal once,” Yancy said. “The law doesn’t always get it right.”

However, Napolitano, a former police officer and firefighter, said every other city worker facing termination has the right to ask an arbitrator to decide whether they should be terminated, and police officers should be allowed to exercise those same rights, especially since they do not have the right to strike.

Napolitano said the opposition to allowing officers to have an arbitrator is part of a larger anti-police movement that began more than six years ago.

“All I’m constantly hearing is that police are racist, police are racist, they’re anti-Black, they’re anti-Hispanic, anti-whatever, that’s the most absolute nonsense thing I’ve ever heard,” Napolitano said, before being interrupted by an irate member of the public.

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

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

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