CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot has finally released her plan for creating a civilian agency to oversee the Police Department.
Lightfoot’s proposal calls for creating a seven-person commission of Chicagoans that would recommend superintendent candidates, but not pick one for the police department top spot; collaborate on policies; and give input to police and city officials, among other things.
The plan — which would need City Council approval to be instituted — comes after months of Lightfoot promising to create a plan to reform police oversight. It also comes as aldermen and reform groups are pushing their own measure to overhaul the system — a measure Lightfoot has tried to fend off by pushing for delays in voting on that proposal.
The mayor’s proposal is competing against the Empowering Communities for Public Safety legislation created as a compromise between the Civilian Police Accountability Council, or CPAC, and a competing ordinance authored by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, or GAPA. The two camps unified in March for what they dubbed the “people’s ordinance,“ the United Proposal.
Lightfoot’s plan and the United Proposal differ in several ways — chief among them being that Lightfoot and future mayors would pick the police superintendent under her proposal, according to a Mayor’s Office news release. Under the United Proposal, the commission would hire and fire the superintendent.
“The relationship between the mayor and the police superintendent is critically important, so we will have a process where the candidates will be vetted through the commission …,” Lightfoot said. “I will ultimately, as mayor … be making that decision.”
Also, under the United Proposal, the civilian commission would set the Police Department’s budget. Under Lightfoot’s plan, the commission would prepare a “budget submission” that would go to the mayor-appointed budget director, with the commission only able to “recommend changes” to the Police Department’s budget, according to Lightfoot’s office.
If the city goes with Lightfoot’s plan, a temporary commission will be created and later replaced with an elected commission. The commission would begin its work at the start of 2022.
Lightfoot gave few details about her plan during a news conference early Monday, though she said a key difference between her plan and the United Proposal is her plan would allow people who aren’t citizens to serve on the commission.
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.
Lightfoot withdrew her support from GAPA last summer, promising an alternative. During Monday’s news conference, she said her plan has many “of the key structures you saw previously with GAPA,” and her proposal “picks up where the prior GAPA proposal really left off.”
For years, leaders of the two proposals have offered differing visions of what a civilian oversight panel would look like. After months of no apparent movement from City Hall, advocates and aldermen said the shared frustration over delays that have stopped civilian police oversight from passing though City Council brought them together.
“People aren’t necessarily happy with the amount of time that it’s taken,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) chair of the Black Caucus. “A number of our members support the unified proposal. … But some people expressed they want to see what else will be put on the table.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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