CITY HALL — The City Council is primed to decide on Wednesday whether Chicago will adopt a mechanism for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, potentially fulfilling a long-delayed campaign promise of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a years-old call from grassroots activists.
The City Council Committee on Public Safety voted 12-8 on Tuesday to send a compromise ordinance struck by Lightfoot and the grassroots Empowering Communities for Public Safety coalition to the City Council for final approval, putting Chicago closer than it’s ever been to community oversight of the department.
If approved on Wednesday, the ordinance will establish a seven-member oversight commission charged with drafting and proposing police department policy. The board envisions 22 three-member District Area Councils, one for each of the city’s police districts, whose elected members would be responsible for nominating members of the oversight commission.
Aldermen who voted “no” on the ordinance were Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th), Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th), Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd). Reilly is not a member of the public safety committee, but his position as City Council president pro tempore allows him to attend any committee meeting as a voting member.
Prior to the committee vote and during the sometimes tense meeting, Lightfoot took to Twitter to “strongly urge the committee members to support the negotiated compromise.” Lightfoot generally does not directly involve herself in committee votes.
The committee vote on Tuesday evening came one day after Lightfoot and the grassroots Empowering Communities for Public Safety coalition announced they had reached agreement on an ordinance for civilian oversight after previously submitting competing proposals for the historic reform measure.
Lightfoot and members of the coalition wrote in their statement Monday that “after a weekend of productive negotiations, we are pleased to announce that the parties have reached an agreement on a proposed substitute ordinance for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and the Police Board.”
“If passed, this ordinance would bring an historic, transformative and balanced approach to civilian oversight,” the statement continued. “The Committee on Public Safety is expected to take up the substitute ordinance on Tuesday and we strongly urge the members of City Council to vote to approve this landmark legislation.”
The Empowering Communities for Public Safety coalition followed up in a statement after Tuesday’s vote saying they planned to celebrate passage of the ordinance as a “grassroots victory!”
“The people of Chicago have long demanded transformative changes to the city’s systems of policing and public safety,” members wrote in the statement. “As a coalition whose members have been in this fight for years and in some cases, decades, we are excited to see our vision become a reality, in which community members themselves have the power to shape how policing happens in their neighborhoods.”
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), a lead sponsor of the measure, said on Tuesday that the ordinance is “a balanced approach to make sure that the community is involved in policy in the direction of our [police] department.”
“We need the collaboration between police and community, and this is the most effective way to get us there,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) another key sponsor and a member of the public safety committee.
Sponsor Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) reworked a quote from Lightfoot earlier this year that she “wears the jacket” for violence in the city and said, “We are at the end of the day, one city, and we all wear the jacket for the tragedy that happens in this city.”
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who chairs the public safety committee, avoided publicly supporting either proposal for civilian oversight when there were competing ordinances. But the alderman, who said he previously worked 22 years as a police officer and loves the profession of law enforcement, threw his support behind the compromise ordinance Tuesday.
“I see with my own eyes that we need police reform,” Taliaferro said. “If this is one way … of producing the best police department that we can, I support it.”
Taliaferro said “there may be one aspect of it I disagree with, but I’m certainly supportive of this ordinance as well as community oversight.” He did not disclose which aspect of the ordinance he disagrees with.
The committee chair also said on Tuesday that he was “very involved with the GAPA [Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability] Coalition early on…going back as far as right after the Laquan McDonald shooting” but stepped away from GAPA when he was appointed committee chair to “appear as impartial as possible.”
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), an advocate for the police department and staunch critic of Lightfoot, voiced his support for the ordinance before voting to pass it on Tuesday.
“I think we are on the right track,” Lopez said. “I think that for four years we’ve heard that from our constituents, from the people” and if this restores “the legitimacy of law enforcement, it will have been well worth it.”
Still, Lopez added that he “cannot commend the mayor for today.”
Lopez said Lightfoot “has been stalling and tried to derail this since day one.” He instead commended community groups and ordinance co-sponsors, whom he said “even though they could have pushed [the ordinance] last month” … showed “restraint.”
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader, took a different tone and said the ordinance wouldn’t have been before aldermen on Tuesday without Lightfoot.
“She held the line on what I thought was probably not passable,” Cardenas said.
Some aldermen have told The Daily Line they expected the civilian oversight ordinance to pass out of the public safety committee on a closer vote than in the full City Council because many members of the committee tend to side with the police department.
Curtis, before voting no, said the topic presented a “touchy situation.”
“If you ask me this a few months from now, I probably would definitely change my vote, but right now I feel that the city is out of control and we need to grab control of it before we look into civilian oversight,” Curtis said.
Thompson said he thinks there is already “a structure in place” for “more collaboration between our residents and the police department.”
He said he believes the ordinance relinquishes the City Council’s “authority over the police” and that the community is already “involved in every decision” he makes as an alderman.
Additionally, Chicago Police Union President John Catanzara called in to the public comment portion of the committee meeting to urge aldermen not to pass the ordinance.
“Obviously I’m speaking out in opposition to this ordinance,” Catanzara said. “I’m a firm believer there is way more oversight for the police department than needs to be.”
Cantanzara, who stands to potentially be fired based on misconduct charges brought against him, asked, “why is the oversight always about the police department?”
A longstanding point of contention between the grassroots coalition and Lightfoot over whether the civilian commission or the mayor would have final say over police policy decisions appeared to have been worked out in the compromise ordinance announced Monday.
Under the agreement, the citywide civilian commission would have the authority to approve police department policy, which would take effect 60 days after approval from the commission. But the ordinance gives the mayor power to veto policy passed by the commission within a 60-day period.
The mayor would be required in any written determination rejecting policy to “explain with specificity the reason for rejection,” according to the ordinance.
The mayor’s veto would be final unless, as is the case with other city legislation, two-thirds of the City Council, or 34 aldermen, vote to overrule the veto, in which case the policy would take effect “30 days after such affirmative vote,” the ordinance shows.
Much of the compromise ordinance announced Monday is rooted in the language of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance, aldermen told The Daily Line on Monday.