CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot has given up on working with the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) and plans to propose her own ordinance to establish a civilian police oversight board later this year, she said Tuesday.
Responding to a question from The Daily Line during a town hall event organized by The Triibe, Lightfoot said she has “spent a lot of time with the GAPA folks,” but they never came back with a counteroffer to settle “remaining issues” following the mayor’s rejection of their last plan introduced in March.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who chairs the City Council Committee on Public Safety, said Wednesday that he supported the decision.
“When there’s legislation that needs to be passed, there’s only so much time you can wait before the public starts to get restless,” Taliaferro told The Daily Line.
In Mach, Lightfoot pulled her support from a proposal (O2019-4132) to create a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability because of a dispute over who would get the final say in conflicts between the community commission and Chicago Police Department over police oversight policies. Lightfoot wanted to be the tie-breaking voice, while activists wanted the commission to get the final word.
“We’re moving on from GAPA,” Lightfoot said Tuesday. “It’s unfortunate that the GAPA folks did not come forward with a proposal that solves some of those outstanding issues.”
Desmond Yancy, a coordinator with the GAPA coalition, called Lightfoot’s decision “disappointing.” He added that the final sticking point over who is empowered to settle policy disputes “isn’t a small thing.”
“For the mayor to have the final say essentially gives the final say back to the police department, because it’s hard to imagine a scenario when the mayor and the police superintendent aren’t aligned,” Yancy told The Daily Line Wednesday. “The mayor having that power just continues the status quo.”
He added that he expects Lightfoot’s forthcoming plan to “come up short and mirror symbolic gestures other cities have made” in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis Police.
Creating a “civilian police investigative agency” was one of the headline recommendations of the Police Accountability Task Force convened by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 amid fallout from the police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald. Lightfoot, who at the time was president of the Chicago Police Board, led the task force.
Lightfoot wrote in her mayoral campaign platform that she supports “many of GAPA’s recommendations,” which the group has been developing since 2016.
But on Tuesday, the mayor reiterated that the task force she chaired “didn’t recommend a specific form of police oversight,” but she will continue to push for civilian police oversight, even as negotiations with GAPA have run their course.
“We’ve got to get it done,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve waited too long. We need to move forward.”
Lightfoot said she plans to work with aldermen to “introduce an alternative form of police oversight” in “October or November.”
Taliaferro said he agrees with the mayor that discussions over a police oversight board have “been dragging out for much longer than I or the mayor anticipated.” He blamed the delay on GAPA’s unwillingness to negotiate over who gets the final word on policy disputes.
“If you draw a line in the sand and you’re not going to change, then something has to happen, or it’s just going to stay a stalemate,” Taliaferro told The Daily Line. “We cannot keep waiting this out.”
The alderman added that the seven-member civilian commission will still be empowered to draft and promote policy, even if Lightfoot has the final word on disputes between the commission and police — a setup Taliaferro endorsed.
“You need a tiebreaker — that’s what any organization does,” Taliaferro said. “If there’s an impasse, you need a third party to settle it.”
Other aldermen admonished the mayor’s decision to leave the GAPA proposal behind.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), the two lead sponsors of the GAPA proposed ordinance, wrote in a joint statement Wednesday that they were “disappointed” in Lightfoot’s dismissal of the plan and that Chicagoans “should be concerned by the mayor’s shift in position.”
“The community organizations from across Chicago that comprise the GAPA coalition should not be criticized for their hard work and dedication to this important effort,” the aldermen wrote. “They worked in good faith and took the Mayor at her word that she would pass a civilian oversight ordinance in her first 100 days in office. GAPA has been stalled, not by its hard-working community leaders, but by those unwilling to give up control over police reform policy.
Meanwhile, a growing wave of activists and multiple aldermen have rallied behind the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) proposal, which would create an elected civilian oversight board advocates say would have more power to hold police to account.
Earlier this month, more than 20 aldermen added their name to a letter Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), a vocal proponent of CPAC, sent to Taliaferro requesting that he scheduled a committee hearing to discuss civilian oversight and police accountability.
Taliaferro said Wednesday that he plans to schedule a hearing on the topic sometime in October, and intended to do so even before Vasquez wrote his letter.
The “Lens On Lightfoot” project is a collaboration of seven Chicago newsrooms examining the first year of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Partners are the BGA, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, La Raza and The TRiiBE. It is managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News.