CHICAGO (CBS) — After months of stalling, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday announced her plan to create a civilian police oversight board, one which would have significantly less authority than a competing proposal championed by a coalition of progressive, Black, and Latino aldermen.
Under her plan, Lightfoot would retain the power to hire and fire the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and members of the Chicago Police Board. She also would also keep final say over the departments’ policies and budgets.READ MORE: Mayor Lori Lightfoot Backs Declaring Juneteenth An Official City Holiday Starting Next Year
The mayor repeatedly has said, because she “wears the jacket” for crime in Chicago, she’s not willing to essentially hand over control of CPD to a civilian oversight board. She reiterated that stance on Monday.
“Public safety, I think, is one of the most critical responsibilities of any mayor – me and anybody who will come from me. The relationship between the mayor and the police superintendent is critically important,” she said. “Because the buck stops with me, I will ultimately as mayor – and any other subsequent mayor – be making that decision” on hiring or firing the superintendent.
However, the commission would have the power to “assess performance of and set goals for” those officials, according to the mayor’s office.
When any of those positions becomes vacant, the commission would be empowered to conduct a search for new candidates, and provide the mayor with a list of nominees to choose from, virtually identical to the current process the Police Board takes for vacancies in the superintendent’s office.
The panel also would have the authority to cast a vote of “no-confidence on the fitness of the superintendent, chief administrator and police board president.”
While the commission would be able to weigh in on setting policy for the Chicago Police Department, COPA, and the Police Board, the seven-member panel would not have the final say on policy. Rather, if there were any policy disputes between the commission and CPD, COPA, or the Police Board, Lightfoot would “review the parties’ positions and either direct the Superintendent, Chief Administrator, or Police Board President to take appropriate action, or explain in writing why no action is warranted.”
Likewise, the new commission would also be given a chance to weigh in on the various agencies’ annual budgets, but would not have the ultimate authority.
Rather, before the annual City Council vote on department budgets, the commission would “prepare and submit to the Budget Director a detailed and factually supported budget submission, then review and, if warranted, recommend changes to the proposed Department budget appropriation.”
The commission also would have the authority to direct COPA to investigate specific complaints of police misconduct “consistent with COPA’s defined jurisdiction.”
The first members of the commission would be appointed by the mayor and the City Council — with Lightfoot nominating five members, and the City Council Public Safety Committee nominating two, subject to confirmation by the full City Council. Commission members would serve four-year terms, with a limit of no more than 12 years total.READ MORE: Child Tax Credit: How Much Will Your Monthly Check Be?
However, the ordinance also would establish three-member “district councils” elected within each of the Chicago Police Department’s 22 districts. Once elected, one of the three council members for each district would be chosen to serve on a nominating committee tasked with providing the mayor with candidates for commission members when there are vacancies on the panel.
“We allow for a process which I think is important to be really engaged at the community level through the districts, the police districts,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot’s proposal does not specifically say when the first district councils would be elected. Rather, the ordinance tasks the appointed seven-member commission with recommending “a process for electing District Council members” to the mayor and City Council Public Safety Committee “as soon as it is practical and feasible” once the commission is in place in 2022.
The mayor’s announcement of her plan for a civilian police oversight commission comes just days after City Council Public Safety Committee Chairman Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said he plans to hold a vote on the issue next month, after holding briefings for aldermen on both Lightfoot’s plan and a more sweeping proposal dubbed the “Empowering Communities for Public Safety” (ECPS) ordinance, which Lightfoot opposes, but has been endorsed by the council’s Black, Latino, and Progressive caucuses.
The ECPS ordinance is the result of a compromise reached between the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) and the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), which for years had been pushing competing plans for civilian oversight of CPD.
GAPA and CPAC joined forces earlier this year, months after Lightfoot pulled her previous support from GAPA’s plan, over a dispute over whether the mayor or a civilian oversight board should have final say on disputes over CPD policy.
The ECPS ordinance would put a binding referendum on the ballot in 2022, asking Chicago voters to create an 11-member board — with nine elected members and two appointed by the board itself — empowered to hire and fire the police superintendent, set CPD policy, negotiate contracts with unions representing officers, and set the department’s budget – stripping away those powers from the mayor and the City Council, which Lightfoot vehemently opposes.
If the referendum to create a civilian oversight board with total authority over CPD would fail, the ordinance would create a seven-member board with fewer regulatory powers over the department.
In that case, the board would still be able to set CPD policy, but the City Council would have the opportunity to veto such policies by a two-thirds vote.
The commission would be empowered to hire and fire the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which handles investigations of police shootings and complaints of police misconduct.
The commission could also cast a no confidence vote against the CPD superintendent and Chicago Police Board members, which would trigger City Council hearings; and, if the City Council were to recommend their removal, the mayor would either have to remove them, or explain why not.MORE NEWS: Decision Delayed Again On Mental Health Treatment In Jail For Serial Stowaway Marilyn Hartman
With Lightfoot now finally unveiling her own plan, she has little more than three weeks to win over aldermen who might be on the fence on which civilian oversight proposal to support before a Public Safety Committee vote is held on June 18.