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Rival Proposals To Let Civilians Run Police Department Could Be Merged In A Compromise Deal — But Lightfoot Delays Vote Again

Supporters of CPAC and GAPA, two proposals to create civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, are negotiating towards a compromise ordinance to fend off a third measure set to be introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Chicago Police arrive at The Love March with GoodKids Mad City in the Austin neighborhood on Saturday, July 25, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Supporters of two proposals to create civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department are negotiating towards a compromise ordinance to fend off a third measure set to be introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The two ordinances were scheduled to be voted on by the Public Safety Committee Friday, but the meeting was canceled by its chairman, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), at Lightfoot’s request.

Canceling the meeting was the “responsible thing to do if the mayor of this city wants to introduce a substitute ordinance on any matter regarding the operation and governance of this city,” Taliaferro told the Sun-Times.

On Friday morning, the lead sponsors of the Civilian Police Accountability Council, or CPAC, and a competing ordinance authored by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, or GAPA, held a press conference criticizing Lightfoot for delaying a vote and stating they are close to reaching a compromise between the two measures.

Ald. Rod Sawyer (6th), a co-sponsor of the GAPA proposal, said he was “ a bit disappointed” the meeting was canceled at Lightfoot’s request and that had the meeting gone forward, he believes the two sides would have worked through the night to reach a compromise to vote on Friday morning.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), co-sponsor of the CPAC proposal, said the two parties have met behind closed doors for weeks to reach an agreement, narrowing the remaining “sticking points.”

“I’m just so disappointed to hear that Mayor Lightfoot, at the last minute, would say that she is now going to ask the Public Safety Committee to push this back an entire month, simply so that she can introduce her own ordinance that does not have the support of GAPA, and that does not have the support of CPAC,” he said.

Neither side would disclose what points of disagreement remain in the negotiations, but Sawyer said they are in lockstep that the civilian body must have ultimate decision making power over police policy.

“That’s where our line is drawn in the sand. We stand with CPAC in unity to state that on important policy decisions, if there is a disagreement, the end all be all is going to be with the commission, whatever form it takes,” he said.

The disagreement over where ultimate power rests led to Lightfoot withdrawing her initial support from the GAPA ordinance.

At a separate press conference, Lightfoot said “there’s nothing last minute about my involvement in this work” and she will introduce a proposal that borrows best practices from other cities “soon.”

“Civilian oversight is something that I started the conversation in this city about almost five years ago” when she led the Police Accountability Task Force, she said.

Lightfoot said she wasn’t concerned that a GAPA-CPAC compromise ordinance would have more support than any measure she could put forward.

“I do a lot of talking to aldermen, I feel very confident about where those proposals lie, I have a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen there, so we’ll see,” she said. “I feel confident that we’ll be able to get something done.”

The cancelation of the committee meeting came on the same day Chicago’s Inspector General released a scathing report of Lightfoot and the Chicago Police Department’s response to protests over the summer sparked by the police killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

The cancelation is the latest in a series of false dawns for the ordinances, which have never received a committee vote despite support among City Council members.

Either proposal would fulfill a recommendation by the Police Accountability Task Force to establish a civilian body to oversee the Police Department. The group was convened by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 following the release of a video showing police killing Laquan McDonald.

The task force was initially chaired by Lightfoot, who was then head of the Chicago Police Board.

Lightfoot said the creation of a civilian oversight commission was a priority for her administration, but neither proposal has received a vote in City Council. After initially signaling her support for GAPA, Lightfoot said this summer she was “moving on” from the proposal and her office promised to introduce a third measure.

In January, supporters of each ordinance presented amendments to their plans at a hearing of the Public Safety Committee, including a provision in CPAC that would cut Police Department funding by hundreds of millions of dollars by capping its budget at 25 percent of Chicago’s corporate fund–the largest of several pots of money that comprise the total budget.

CPAC would give broad control over the Police Department to the civilian commission. It would include 11 councilors, elected from two contiguous police districts. They would select deputy councilors to help monitor the department. Councilors and their deputies would earn full-time salaries in line with aldermen.

But following criticism of the plan during an October meeting, changes were made to give City Council a role in police oversight — and to cut police spending.

The ordinance stipulates CPAC’s budget cannot be less than 1 percent of that of the Police Department. The ordinance also was amended to require 20 percent of CPAC’s budget to be devoted to “studying, piloting, experimenting with and implementing non-policing public safety solutions,” such as violence intervention programs.

Under the changes, CPAC still would have the authority to hire the police superintendent, the chief administrator of the Chicago Office of Police Accountability and members of the Chicago Police Board. But the changes stipulate those decisions would be made with the “advice and consent” of City Council.

A majority of the City Council would have to approve if CPAC moved to fire anyone serving in those positions.

The changes also allow for the police department and Chicago Police Board to create the boundaries for the electoral districts of the CPAC councilors and would allow for councilors to be removed from their positions for cause.

GAPA Proposal

GAPA would create a nine-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. The initial proposal would have empowered its members to set Police Department policies, launch investigations, compel data from the department and recommend police budgets to City Council.

Key changes would now allow the commission to take votes of no confidence for the police superintendent, COPA administrator and police board members; to annually review and “set priorities” for those three bodies; and to comment on the police budget before City Council. The revised ordinance also would grant the commission authority to launch a COPA investigation

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said Friday he believes what Lightfoot will propose will “keep control in the mayor’s hands,” and is “proud” to see the coalition working together to provide an alternative choice.

“It’s legislation that the people have worked together and are demanding because they want to see it or what the mayor has decided to interject and introduce that is not what the people have been working on,” he said.

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