DOWNTOWN — A group of aldermen are calling for an end to the city’s police oversight agency as part of a package of ordinances introduced Wednesday at City Council.
The ordinances, called the Safety Package, would eliminate the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a police watchdog agency that investigates when officers are accused of misconduct and use of force. It would be replaced by the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability — a city-created agency meant to work with, not replace, the police watchdog.
It was unclear who would be responsible for police oversight under this ordinance.
The ordinances would also give officers the power to decline having their days off canceled and ensure families of officers who die in the line of duty get benefits in a timely manner, among other measures.
The package is meant to show support for police officers, as officers have said morale is low and there is a mental health crisis in the department. Three officers have died by suicide this month. The Safety Package will be introduced at City Council on Wednesday, but it will not go to a vote.
Alds. Silvana Tabares (23rd), Ray Lopez (15th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Matt O’Shea (19th) announced the Safety Package during a news conference before Wednesday’s City Council meeting. The four alderpeople are known for supporting police and criticizing the city’s approach to handling crime.
But the attempt to end the Civilian Office of Police Accountability is certain to face pushback from other alderpeople and from Chicagoans, who have long called for more oversight of police and accountability.
The agency was only created in 2016 after the former watchdog — the Independent Police Review Authority — was dissolved after police killed Laquan McDonald and officials were accused of trying to cover up the shooting. The Police Department is still under intense scrutiny from everyday citizens and from the Department of Justice, which has been working with a consent decree to reform the department.
Replacing the agency with the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability — as alderpeople suggested at Wednesday’s news conference — was never the city’s plan for oversight of the Police Department. The commission was created in July 2021 as a civilian-led board to help shape police policy, working with the department, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and other city organizations.
At Wednesday’s news conference, alderpeople were flanked by families of officers who have died by suicide. They held photos of their loved ones.
Ryan Clancy, the brother of Patricia Swank, a police officer who died by suicide this month, said his sister frequently fretted about canceled days off. Swank sought counseling through the department, but she found “she didn’t have time for them and they weren’t available to her,” Clancy said.
The Safety Package would give officers the power to decline the cancellation of days off, Napolitano said.
Julie Troglia, the widow of officer Jeff Troglia, who died by suicide, said her husband was frequently getting called into work early and having days off canceled. She said Mayor Lightfoot and Supt. David Brown have been “lying” about the extent of cancellations.
Clancy said officers dying by suicide and canceled days off “go hand in hand.” Swank worked an overtime shift the week before her death where she was punched, he said. She told Clancy she could not see her son in that condition.
“That boy of hers is what kept her going and kept her fighting,” Clancy said. “So going home to a house where she wasn’t in any condition to be there, that breaks my heart.
“… [Officers] need time to breath, sleep, process the scenes and feel like human beings, to feel like they matter. I truly feel this city has failed my sister and is failing officers that are still with us today.”
One of the proposed ordinances would give officials a 30-day deadline to give salary benefits to surviving spouses and dependents of officers who die in the line of duty.
Elizabeth Huerta, wife of officer Jose Huerta, said she has not received survivor benefits in the seven months since his death, even after speaking with Brown and him “promising that it would get done.”
Huerta said she cares for the couple’s two children, 11 and 14, and life has been challenging without the benefits.
“I pray that other families don’t have to suffer what we’ve been through,” she said.
Another proposed ordinance in the package would require city officials who work in police oversight to take the same written test on use of force standards given to police recruits and to learn body camera practices with a simulator.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she would not support the package, saying it would be inappropriate for City Hall to play a role in the department’s management.
“Obviously, we’re very concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of our officers,” Lightfoot said during an unrelated news conference. “What I don’t want to do is, for the sake of pandering to a crowd, do something that, frankly, undermines the flexibility that every single department needs to have to address emerging HR issues.”
And another proposed ordinance would make it easier for officers from other departments to transfer to the Chicago Police Department with a modified training program.
Tabares also said Brown should notify the City Council in writing anytime he is absent from the city.
“The Chicago Police Department has been decimated, and those who remain have to work an extreme amount of hours,” Tabares said. “Our city is in a crisis and our Police Department is broken.”
In addition to the proposed ordinances, the alderpeople will put forth a resolution calling for a hearing on officer mental health in the City Council’s Human and Health Relations Committee. Tabares said Brown would be asked to testify alongside mental health experts.
Napolitano, a former officer and fireman, said in his 23 years as a public official he’s “never seen such disrespect for a department or working force in the city of Chicago.”
“Police are being abused, used and disregarded,” Napolitano said. “We’re losing officers to attrition and to suicide. To say there’s not a pattern that’s going on here, with the amount work put on these officers, we have a problem if we’re denying that.”
O’Shea said he hears from officers in his ward who are working more than 20 days in a row and missing their “daughter’s games and family parties.”
“They need time with those families. They need to rest,” O’Shea said. “Anyone out there who says they get plenty of time off, I call bulls—.”
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