Aldermen see police reform as key issue for Council

Ald.-elect Jeanette Taylor (20th) speaks at a May 14 press conference of incumbent and future City Council members advocating for the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) at City Hall. (Photo by Owen M. Larson)

Staff writer

When the newest edition of Chicago’s City Council meets on May 29, aldermen will face at least one long-standing issue: police accountability. And representatives from local wards will be active in the debate.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) is pushing ahead with her Independent Citizen Police Monitor (ICPM) proposal, which she originally proposed in 2016, and Ald. Sophia King (4th) is considering all the various reform options on the table.

In a press conference on May 14, Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) pledged to try to file legislation to create a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) at the Council’s first meeting.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, however, supports a proposal put forth by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability. GAPA would establish a seven-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability that would oversee the Chicago Police, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — the body the City Council ultimately established over the ICPM — and the Police Board. The Commission would participate in the selection and termination of the police commissioner, the COPA administrator and the Police Board president and members.

GAPA also would establish strategic goals for those departments, conduct annual reviews to see how they have worked for those goals and have final policymaking authority over the Chicago Police and COPA. An elected, three-member District Council for each of the 22 Chicago Police districts would “serve as the eyes and ears of the Commission in each district” and its civilians. Its annual budget would be $2.8 million.

Asked for comment, Lightfoot’s office issued a statement, saying she has supports “bold, progressive civilian oversight of the police to ensure Chicago has a public, transparent and inclusive level of accountability when it comes to officers’ practices.

“We’re committed to transforming the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the communities it serves and as part of that process, Mayor Lightfoot will work directly with City Council to establish the most effective system of reforms that ensure community members and residents have a voice when it comes to police accountability.”

CPAC, which supporters say has 15 votes lined up on the Council, would consist of elected representatives from each of Chicago’s police districts serving four-year terms. It would have the power to hire and fire the police superintendent, wide policymaking and investigative powers, from officers’ contract negotiations to disciplinary action, and a $30 million budget.

“I stand here today to say it’s a new day,” Taylor said on May 14. “This 2019 election showed that the status quo is no longer acceptable. We’re in a space now where we can actually change policy in our community.

“Too often in Black and Brown communities, we don’t receive justice. We live in communities where we’re constantly harassed by the police — there’s no such thing as community policing in my community — and so, at the end of the day, we’ve got to get to spaces where we are to be served as protected as other folks on the North Side of Chicago.”

Hairston’s 2016 ICPM legislation would have created a new agency led by a Council-approved chief administrator chosen by a committee made up of civil, immigrant and LGBTQ rights advocates; someone from the faith community; a representative from the Chicago Plaintiffs’ Civil Rights Police Misconduct Bar; the mayor; the police superintendent and the City Council’s Police and Fire Committee chair or their chosen representatives.

ICPM would have had 27 different investigative powers and duties with subpoena power, including civilians’ police complaints, crimes and misconduct committed by officers and all instances in which an officer fires a gun and situations in which a civilian dies or is injured. The ICPM would have pushed reports recommending policy modifications, and it could recommend disciplinary action. Action taken by the superintendent would have to meet the ICPM’s recommendation unless a panel accepted his or her rationale for administering a lesser disciplinary action.

On May 15, Hairston said she was glad the CPAC press conference was “opening the conversation up again.” She said the Council will consider the ICPM, the CPAC and the GAPA plans when it meets and that advocates for all three proposals have good intentions: “We’re not trying to pit one group against another.”

“It’s about opening up the conversation, because we were never able to have the conversation under the previous administration,” Hairston said. She said there is still legal analysis on ICPM to do before introducing the legislation; she has met with CPAC about their proposal and has supported the GAPA proposal in the past.

Asked for comment after Taylor’s press conference, Ald. Sophia King (4th) issued a statement: “Civilian oversight is an important recommendation from the consent decree which has the ability to build trust and transform the relationships between community and police. This should be a priority of the city council which I look forward to working on with my colleagues and the new administration.”

King’s office did not respond to a follow-up question on whether she would support CPAC, the GAPA plan or Hairston’s ICPM.