Updated Wednesday 12:54 p.m.: Nearly half the City Council used a legal maneuver on Wednesday to trigger a special meeting designed to probe Chicago Police Department leaders about their plans to head off summer violence ahead of the July 4 weekend.
The virtual council meeting, now scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday, follows through on a letter signed on Tuesday by 25 aldermen threatening to convene the special meeting if a powerful committee chair did not act this week to schedule a wide-ranging meeting to review police policies.
In their letter Tuesday to Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who chairs the council’s Committee on Public Safety, aldermen wrote that “time is of the essence on these matters” and they are “requesting your action on these important items before the start of the Fourth of July Holiday weekend.”
Their follow-up letter to city Clerk Anna Valencia on Wednesday said they intend to use Friday’s meeting “to receive…reports from [Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown…regarding the Chicago Police Department’s policies and efforts designed at increasing the safety of all Chicagoans this summer.” The letter also threatens to vote on a resolution (R2021-218) of “no confidence” in Brown’s leadership if the superintendent does not show up to the meeting.
“We tried to be collaborative,” Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) wrote in a tweet Wednesday announcing the meeting. “We tried to work to bring this before a committee. All efforts rebuffed so we shall see you Friday!”
The aldermen on Tuesday had requested a hearing on three resolutions including a request (R2021-524) from Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) for a hearing on whether the police department’s Summer Mobile Patrol Unit and Community Safety Team are siphoning officers from neighborhood districts.
“For years we’ve been trying to get Chairman Taliaferro to schedule a meeting on public safety so we can talk about these issues with the police, and he refuses to call for a hearing,” Beale said. “Yes, this is drastic, but these are drastic times, because people are dying every single day in this city, and people deserve answers.”
The Far South Side alderman added that aldermen have heard “mixed signals” between police district commanders and Brown over how many officers are being pulled from each district to staff special anti-violence units.
“We need to put him on the stand and find out what the truth is,” Beale said. “If we’re not going to get answers the correct way, which is by having public hearings…then we have to take matters into our own hands.”
The aldermen are also asking for the hearing to cover two resolutions proposed by Lopez: (R2021-643) on officer scheduling, deployment and addressing officer fatigue, and a measure (R2021-644) “examining success of technologies used by CPD in managing crime fighting operations and personnel shortages.”
Lopez told The Daily Line on Tuesday that he wants to quiz police leaders on their repeated tactic of canceling days off for officers during high-crime periods.
“The question is whether those policies are effective,” Lopez said. “Because from what we can see, they are not decreasing violence — they are burning out our police officers who have not had a day off in weeks.”
Taliaferro wrote in a statement to The Daily Line that he is open to more discussion on the items — which were all introduced in May — but he did not say whether he imminently plans to schedule a committee meeting.
“Our residents deserve to know what our department’s response has been to a violent past weekend in the city and the plan for this extended holiday weekend,” Taliaferro told The Daily Line in a text message. “As such, I am not opposed to having that conversation, whether it is by way of Committee or Special Council meeting.”
After canceling two consecutive public safety committee meetings earlier this year, Taliaferro blamed the virtual meetings format for infrequent meetings of his committee. The public safety committee was the only City Council committee to see a budget increase this year.
The Sun-Times earlier this month reported that a Chicago Justice Project study found the public safety committee has been “anemic” during the past 20 years, a finding some critical aldermen have seized upon.
A spokesperson for Mayor Lori Lightfoot wrote in a statement Tuesday that “transparency is a critical aspect of ensuring public safety and Aldermen have the ability to work directly with the Chicago Police Department toward ensuring that their respective wards’ needs and concerns are promptly addressed.”
“Since January, all fifty Aldermen were given numerous opportunities to attend a series of briefings hosted by the Superintendent and his team covering the Police Department’s plan for summer deployments, summer operations, and the summer safety strategy,” according to the statement.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Lopez said officials in Lightfoot’s administration have asked him and his colleagues to back off his request for a meeting on Friday, saying city rules require notice of committee meetings to be publicly posted at least three days in advance. But Lopez pointed to City Council Rule 39, which allows committee chairs to call meetings less than least three days in advance “in cases of emergency.
“I believe the violence we’re seeing is an emergency,” Lopez said. “People are dying, and we need to act.”
Four aldermen, including Beale and Lopez, forced a special meeting of the City Council in August 2020 to address looting and violence the city was experiencing. Lightfoot at the time said Beale and Lopez “have a history of grandstanding.”
“Sadly, it was just a few of us trying to raise the alarms a year ago,” Lopez said. “But in the year since, our calls for recognizing the emergency that’s brewing in our communities finally has resonated with many other members…who see that in some communities, the level and horrific nature of violence is growing exponentially.”
The alderman called Lightfoot “delusional” for suggesting earlier this month that violent crime is on the decline from last year.
Under state statute, the mayor or any three aldermen can call a special meeting of the City Council as long as the call is filed at least 48 hours before the meeting is set to begin. Additionally, the mayor or aldermen are required to specify the purpose of the meeting, which is limited to only those stated matters.
Just like regular City Council meetings, a quorum is required to hold a special Council meeting and public comment is allowed “on subject matters appearing on meeting agenda,” according to Chicago municipal code.
Additionally, if a committee chair fails to act for three days after most members of a committee request the chair hold a meeting, the majority of committee members can call a committee meeting via a filed written notice or call to the City Clerk. Half the total number of committee members would need to be present to reach quorum.
As of Tuesday evening, neither a public safety committee meeting nor a special City Council meeting appeared to be scheduled on the City Clerk’s website.