CHICAGO — Chicago voters would decide if power to set the Police Department’s budget, policies and leadership should be shifted from the Mayor’s Office and City Council to a civilian-led oversight commission under a compromise ordinance agreed to by two once-competing police reform proponents.
For years, leaders of the two proposals — the Civilian Police Accountability Council, or CPAC, and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, or GAPA — have offered differing visions of what a civilian oversight panel would look like, with CPAC sponsors calling for a democratically-elected commission with broad powers.
After announcing last month the two groups were working towards a compromise measure, the lead City Council sponsors joined with community groups and victims of police misconduct at a press conference Friday to announce they’ve settled on what they dubbed the “people’s ordinance.”
Ald. Rod Sawyer (6th), a lead sponsor of the GAPA proposal, thanked Mayor Lori Lightfoot for “putting us together by delaying” votes on civilian oversight bodies.
“But now we have a true people’s ordinance, a unity ordinance that we feel is the most transformative police oversight bill in the United States,” he said.
Full details of the oversight commission were not released, but Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th) said the 25-page proposal is the “politically and constitutional” path forward.
“They relate to creating a civilian oversight commission, where the civilian commissioners will have the final say over policy, where they will hire and fire the [Civilian Office of Police Accountability] administrator, where they will have a real say.”
“But there’s also a portion of this ordinance that gives the people of the city of Chicago a choice; to democratically decide if they want to go further with civilian oversight. This is the ordinance that’s empowering our communities to have a say on public safety,” he said.
The Sun-Times reported Thursday evening the ordinance includes a binding referendum that would let Chicago voters decide if the commission should have broad authority over the Police Department, including the power to hire and fire the police superintendent, set the department budget and negotiate contracts with police unions.
Those powers currently reside with the mayor and City Council and were a sticking point when Lightfoot withdrew her support from the GAPA proposal last summer.
At the time, Lightfoot said she’d introduce her own oversight proposal, but has yet to do so.
Lightfoot’s entry into politics came on the heels of her time spent as the president of the Chicago Police Board and chair of the Police Accountability Task Force, created in the wake of the police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald. The task force recommended the creation of a civilian oversight commission, and Lightfoot championed the issue as a candidate and said it was a top goal of her administration after taking office.
On Friday, Lightfoot’s press office said she “expects” to introduce oversight legislation next month into the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
“The Mayor is continuing to engage in important conversations with aldermen, advocates, and experts around this critical issue and is committed to introducing a workable and comprehensive plan for civilian oversight that will expand and enhance reform and accountability for Chicago’s Police Department. These conversations have included a deep dive into the GAPA and CPAC proposals for civilian oversight, and we are currently reviewing the newly combined GAPA/CPAC proposal,” the statement said.
“Policy changes of such a magnitude and important nature take considerable time and effort to get right, and cannot be introduced without the appropriate due diligence and consideration. As such, the Mayor expects to introduce a comprehensive plan for civilian oversight before the Public Safety Committee at next month’s committee meeting.”
The compromise proposal and the pending ordinance from Lightfoot must be advanced out of the Public Safety Committee before receiving a vote by the full City Council.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former police sergeant and chair of the committee, told the Sun-Times the CPAC/GAPA compromise goes too far.
“I can’t imagine being the mayor of a municipality and you have no say-so in the direction of the police department,” he told the paper.
On Friday, Sawyer and Ramirez Rosa said they and their community partners are working to build support for the ordinance in City Council.
“We’re going to be explaining it to our colleagues, let them know what the full ordinance does, and seek their support,” Sawyer said.
It’s unclear how many City Council members will line up behind the ordinance. On Friday, Alds. Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (6th), Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th), Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), Andre Vasquez (40th) and Matt Martin (44th) joined Sawyer and Ramirez Rosa at the virtual press conference.
King, who chairs the Progressive Caucus, called the ordinance “transformational” and “long overdue.”
“We have seen with our very eyes how it works without it; Laquan McDonald, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Miss Anjanette Young, who we are so grateful is alive today to tell her story. It is time for the people to have a voice in civilian oversight. It is imperative that the mayor and our colleagues join us in this effort,” she said.
Frank Chapman, an organizer with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and CPAC supporter, said he’s been involved in the struggle for police reform since 1976 and “didn’t think I’d live to see this moment.”
“We have an opportunity here to turn the tide in the favor of the people. All we’re asking for is our unalienable democratic right to say who polices our communities, and how our communities are policed. That’s a very just demand,” he said.