Chicago Police officers scuffle with Chicagoans as they disperse from Logan Square on Apr. 16, 2021, after protesting the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A showdown between competing proposals to establish a civilian oversight commission of the Chicago Police Department petered out Friday, as some last-minute maneuvering forced both sides not to bring either to the table for a vote at a key City Council committee meeting.

The Empowering Communities for Public Safety plan — backed by three aldermanic caucuses — and an opposing plan backed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot both were vying for critical support from the Committee on Public Safety on Friday in hopes of getting their proposal before the full City Council. When the day started, it wasn’t clear either had enough votes to pass.

Then shortly before the meeting began, supporters of ECPS announced they had reached a deal to take a key feature out of their proposal, believing that eleventh-hour change secured the needed votes. But in a 10-9 vote, the public safety committee refused to allow the revised ECPS into the meeting for consideration. Another vote to postpone the meeting until Monday to reconsider allowing the amended plan into committee also failed.

That meant backers of ECPS were stuck with the older version of the plan. Sensing it would be voted down if it didn’t include the changes, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) and Ald. Rod Sawyer (6th) asked for it to be held in committee and not voted on. 

Amid the chaos, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th,) who chairs the committee, announced Lightfoot had already asked for her oversight proposal not to be voted on, as well. With both proposals no longer up for consideration, the committee adjourned without taking a vote on either one, delaying what has already been a years-long battle to overhaul oversight of Chicago Police.

After the meeting, leaders of both contingents vowed to continue getting the support for their plans.

“What’s very clear is we have a coalition and we have alders who are not going anywhere,” Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said of ECPS.

Lightfoot said in a statement Friday she is “firmly committed to passage of a strong and effective civilian oversight ordinance.”

“Today’s Public Safety Committee actions indicated a lack of support among some committee members for the ECPS proposal,” the statement read. “Last week, the Mayor’s Office convened the stakeholders in an attempt to reignite a negotiation process in earnest to attempt to work through outstanding concerns about the various proposals, and the Mayor is committed to continuing that dialogue. The Mayor remains optimistic that eventually civilian oversight will happen. It is important, however, that the dialogue and tactics are unifying and not divisive.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, April 21, 2021. Credit: Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times/pool

The last-minute change dropped a provision calling for a referendum that would allow voters to empower the commission to hire and fire the Police Superintendent, set the police budget and negotiate contracts with police unions.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said it was a “tactical decision” to drop the referendum in order to gain enough votes to clear the committee hurdle. He said the coalition had agreed to separate the referendum from the ECPS proposal and “look to passing the referendum as a separate ordinance” at a later date.

Aldermen who support ECPS criticized how Taliaferro conducted the meeting and blasted their colleagues for blocking the newest version of the plan. Osterman, a lead sponsor of ECPS, said he was “disappointed” with his colleagues “given the fact that we’ve waited four years to vote on this matter.”

Taliaferro criticized the “last-minute” changes, prompting Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) to interject: “It happens all the time!”

“I screamed it to the rooftop over and over and over again” to remove the referendum from the ordinance and “you would have the support that you wanted for the ECPS ordinance, and no one listened,” Taliaferro said. “So I find it a little frustrating that at the last minute that we say ‘okay now let’s do that.’”

After the meeting, Vasquez said Taliaferro was blocking consideration of an ordinance that had more support than the mayor’s proposal.

“Chairman Taliaferro could’ve allowed that substitute to go in — especially after that speech about democracy and what democracy means — democracy would have been accepting the substitute to have a fair conversation on it. I think people should watch that meeting very closely to understand who is working to get police accountability and which members of City Council are obstructionists when it comes to police accountability,” Vasquez said. 

News broke of the ECPS organizers removing the referendum right as several people gave public comments in favor of the plan, specifically praising the referendum for allowing Chicago voters to decide if they want to strengthen the oversight commission.

Martin Levine, director of Jewish Voices for Peace Chicago, urged the committee to approve the ECPS proposal, saying it was the result of deep community engagement. 

“ECPS is what democracy looks like,” he said. “It gives the people of this city the opportunity for even further change, but it respects their right to decide.”

Lightfoot campaigned on the promise of transforming the Police Department by establishing a civilian-led commission to oversee police within her first 100 days, but she has yet to deliver.

For more than a year, Lightfoot negotiated with a coalition of aldermen and police reformers known as the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, or GAPA. But the talks broke down when the mayor refused to relinquish ultimate control over police policy, and the hiring and firing of the police superintendent. She officially withdrew her support from that proposal in the fall.

GAPA supporters forged a compromise with supporters of a more robust oversight proposal, the Civilian Police Accountability Council, or CPAC, the two groups announced in March.

As that plan gained support, Lightfoot released her own oversight proposal May 24, setting the stage for the public safety committee to have to choose one over the other.

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