City Council poised to approve civilian police oversightFran Spielmanon July 21, 2021 at 3:14 pm

It’s been a long time coming and a rocky road along the way. But, civilian oversight pivotal to restoring public trust between citizens and police is finally coming to Chicago.

The City Council is poised to deliver it on Wednesday, clearing the 34-vote hurdle needed to approve any ordinance involving the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. The ordinance does that by electing three-member councils in each of Chicago’s 22 police districts.

Prior to the final vote, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara denounced the district councils and the appointed, seven-member oversight board as “useless redundancy” that would further demoralize rank-and-file police officers retiring in droves because they don’t feel the city has their back.

Catanzara noted the FOP has already agreed to a host of accountability measures sought by Mayor Lori Lightfoot as part of a tentative, eight-year contract. The mayor has repeatedly refused to acknowledge that agreement — and she won’t, sources told the Sun-Times, until after the Council vote on civilian oversight.

Noting the new contract includes a four-year, retroactive raise for rank-and-file officers, Catanzara said: “You’re patting ’em on the back while you’re stabbing `em with the other hand.”

Catanzara pointed to the multiple layers of police oversight already provided by the Police Board, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the Chicago Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, the federal monitor and the Il. Attorney General’s office.

“Another layer of oversight is just ridiculous. It’s only going to make coppers more pissed off because more oversight means, `You’re doing something wrong. You need to be watched because you’re not doing something right,’ ” he said.

“It’s blaming the police for what’s wrong in this city. … And we know that numbers don’t lie. Police are not the problem in this city. Criminals are the problem in this city and the politicians who defend the criminals.”

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

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to empower a civilian oversight board to hire and fire the police superintendent and be the final arbiter in disputes over police policy and the Chicago Police Department’s budget. She promised to deliver civilian oversight within the first 100 days of her administration.

What she managed to deliver — 26 months into her four-year term — falls far short of that promise.

The final language would empower a seven-member commission to take a vote of no-confidence in the Chicago police superintendent. The commission also could take no-confidence votes for the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and any Police Board member. Such votes would need the support of at least five of the seven members to pass.

A no-confidence vote by the commission would trigger a vote by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety within 14 days — and then a full City Council vote at its next monthly meeting. If two-thirds of aldermen agree with the no-confidence vote, the chief administrator of COPA “shall be removed.”

However, no-confidence votes in either the CPD superintendent or Police Board members would not be binding on the mayor. Instead, the mayor “shall respond in writing within 14 days after adoption of the resolution, explaining the actions that the mayor will take in response.”

As for police policy, the commission would be empowered to “initiate a policy either by drafting a policy itself or making a written request” to the Chicago Police Department, COPA or the Police Board.

CPD, COPA or the Police Board would then have 14 days to “accept or decline. If the answer is no, there must be an explanation in writing. If recommendation is accepted, the policy must be drafted within 60 days.

“If the Department, COPA or the Police Board does not respond, declines the request or accepts the request, but fails to draft a policy within sixty calendar days or any extension thereto, the commission may take its request to the mayor, who shall review the parties’ positions and either direct the superintendent, chief administrator or police board president to take appropriate action or explain why in writing the mayor has concluded that no action is warranted,” the ordinance states.

A referendum giving the seven-member commission even more power was stripped out of the compromise ordinance because it would never have attracted the 34 votes needed for passage.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) introduced a separate referendum ordinance. But it also is unlikely to clear the two-thirds hurdle.

Lightfoot 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.

She can now scratch that off her progressive agenda to-do list, even though the final version doesn’t go nearly as far as she promised. Aldermen have been under similar pressure to do something dramatically different to stop the bloodbath on Chicago streets. They now can claim they have, before the Council’s traditional summer recess.

The complex process established by the ordinance calls for the immediate seating of an interim, seven-member commission. The mayor would chosen from 14 people nominated by the Council’s Rules Committee. The North, South and West Sides of the city would each get four nominees.

The first full slate of permanent commissioners will be seated in 2023. District council members would serve on a nominating commission that would recommend people to serve as permanent commissioners. The mayor would then pick the commissioners from that list.

Three of the seven board members would serve two-year terms. The rest would serve four-years. The North, South and West Sides of the city would each get two seats.

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