Aldermen and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are taking yet another crack at establishing civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, but Lightfoot won’t predict how long it will take to adopt a plan that she and other officials have been promising for years.
The City Council Public Safety Committee met Tuesday to accept amended versions of the long-gestating Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability and Civilian Police Accountability Council ordinances, at a time when the fallout from the wrongful 2019 police raid in Anjanette Young’s home has again brought increased public scrutiny to the need for police reforms.
The competing plans repeatedly have stalled in recent years as activists have pressed for more power for citizens to control Police Department policy, fire the police superintendent and conduct their own investigations, and city and police officials have pushed back against sharing those responsibilities.
Aldermen again will try to reach some kind of compromise that can make it out of the committee and then get majority support in the full City Council.
Lightfoot had set civilian oversight as one of her priorities for her first 100 days in office in summer 2019, but an agreement so far has eluded her.
Asked Tuesday about the timing of this latest attempt, the mayor said it’s more important to get it right than to do it quickly.
“This is not easy work. If it was easy, we would have done it already,” Lightfoot said at a news conference to talk about COVID-19 vaccinations. “But I’m personally involved, and I’m confident we will get to the right place and be able to present something to the City Council for a vote as soon as we are able.”
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The new plan from the grassroots Civilian Police Accountability Council — which has long been the version that gives more citizen power over the department — no longer proposes allowing an elected citizen board to unilaterally fire the police superintendent and other officials. Instead, the City Council would need to vote to remove them after the CPAC board voted to do so.
The new GAPA plan has changed little since aldermen held a hearing on it last fall, according to sponsoring Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th. One new clause would set up an interim citizen board named by the City Council, until citywide elections of commission members in 2022, he said Tuesday.
Committee Chairman Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, said he will next set up briefing sessions for aldermen on both plans.
One ordinance, at most, will get voted out of the committee and head to the full council for consideration, but either proposal could change considerably before that happens.
In March, the mayor announced she had reached an agreement with the GAPA backers on creating a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, only to see that bid stall in the Public Safety Committee amid ongoing negotiations between activists and Lightfoot over who gets to approve department policy.
Citizen oversight was first proposed by the Police Accountability Task Force that Lightfoot chaired for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting scandal.
As the city reeled from the release of disturbing footage of a white officer shooting McDonald 16 times as the teen, armed with a pocket knife, appeared to walk away, Emanuel announced several reforms.
Emanuel vowed to create an oversight board but deferred to community groups’ requests that they help design it.
Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney contributed to this story.
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