City Council showdown on civilian police oversight put off — againFran Spielmanon July 16, 2021 at 4:56 pm

Police reform advocates have already waited 26 months for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deliver on her promise to empower a civilian oversight board to fire Chicago’s police superintendent and have the final say on police spending and policy.

They’ll just have to wait a little longer.

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety is poised to make certain of it on Friday by putting off a showdown vote on the volatile issue — again — at least until Tuesday.

This time, the delay was triggered by Lightfoot’s decision to propose a revised civilian oversight ordinance that, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said, comes “extremely close” close to the compromise endorsed by the Black, Hispanic and Progressive Caucuses.

Police reform advocates plan to spend the weekend negotiating with the mayor’s office in hopes of reaching a compromise capable of attracting the 34 votes needed to approve any ordinance involving the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

“It’s difficult to pass something over the objections of a sitting mayor…She made a very, very serious proposal. I don’t think we would be…changing course to sit down with the administration if they hadn’t sent over a compromise in substitute ordinance form that was very close to where we’ve been at,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“We’re not ready to accept what she sent right now. There’s still some things that need to be discussed. But it’s the closest this mayor has ever been to an ordinance that our coalition would like to see.”

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment. Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Harry Osterman (48th), who have championed the more moderate version of civilian police oversight, could not be reached.

Ramirez-Rosa refused to reveal specifics of the mayor’s offer, but said it is “extremely, extremely similar” to the version embraced by the three caucuses, particularly on the performance of the police superintendent.

That version empowers the 11-member civilian oversight commission to find there is “just cause” to take a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent and proceed with that vote after giving the top cop 30 days to respond.

If the commission approves, the City Council would vote on whether to recommend that the superintendent be fired. The mayor would not be bound by that vote, but the political pressure to make a change would be tough to ignore.

“She previously didn’t want the commission to have that power at all–to be able to initiate that vote of no-confidence,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

Ramirez-Rosa acknowledged that police reform advocates and the mayor’s office are “still a little further apart” on the issue how to resolve police policy disputes.

But they hope to get over the hump after a few more days of negotiations. The final version is almost certain to empower the civilian oversight commission to resolve disputes over police policy that could only be overruled by a two-thirds City Council vote.

Lightfoot has argued repeatedly that she “wears the jacket” for Chicago violence and she’s not about to “outsource” control over CPD to a civilian police oversight commission.

When Lightfoot finally got around delivering her own version of civilian oversight, she retained for herself and future mayors the power to hire and fire the superintendent and have the final say in disputes over police policy.

But Lightfoot’s ordinance attracted such tepid support, she pulled it, setting the stage for the latest round of negotiations.

Civilian oversight was a pivotal recommendation by the Task Force on Police Accountability that Lightfoot co-chaired in the furor that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

The mayor has been under heavy political pressure to deliver civilian oversight, particularly after changing her tune on an elected school board bill approved by the Illinois General Assembly over her strenuous objections.

Last month, a Public Safety Committee heavily stacked with mayoral allies and law enforcement advocates spared the mayor, what would have been a bitter political defeat.

The 10-9 vote came after Ramirez-Rosa and others agreed to “split out” a binding referendum that, if passed, would give the civilian panel even broader powers.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Ald. Chris Taliaferro ( 29th) said he objected to considering that compromise immediately because he “screamed form the rooftops” for supporters to “pull the referendum and you would have support.”

“No one listened,” until that day, he said.

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