Allowing a civilian oversight board to fire the police superintendent and set policy for the Chicago Police Department is “like telling a surgeon how to do his business,” Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Monday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel tiptoed more softly, having promised — but not delivered — civilian oversight nearly two years ago. But the mayor’s carefully-worded response still threw up a cautionary flag.
The mayor noted that, in the 18 months the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) has been holding public hearings and consulting with national experts, the department has continued its “march on reform.”
Every beat officer now has a body camera. Officers have also been trained on a new use of force policy and on “how to distinguish between a mental health call and a public safety call,” the mayor said.
“Our efforts are to ensure that, while we have the right type of oversight and the right type of accountability, it is complementary to our public safety goals,” he said.
“We’re all gonna make sure that a lot of voices are heard. That we work together to … strike the right balance between public oversight of the police department with our public safety goals and make ’em complementary — not contradictory.”
Johnson didn’t need political interpretation. He was flat-out against the idea of creating a seven-member civilian review board that would be empowered to set policy and strategy for the police department, fire the superintendent and choose three finalists for superintendent from which the mayor could select.
“They don’t have the professional acumen to be able to develop policy and strategy for a police department,” Johnson said.
“The public should have some input on things. But I don’t think they should be developing policy and strategy for a police department. To me, that’s kind of like telling a surgeon how to do his business. We’ve been educated in what we do and there’s a reason for that. If you want it to be done correctly, you should have it done by people who are accustomed to doing that. Just to take a person from off the street and let them develop policy for a police department is just crazy to me.”
For years, Emanuel has been walking a political tightrope.
He’s been trying to craft a new system of police accountability to restore public trust shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video and by the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.
And he’s been trying just as desperately to coax officers concerned about being caught on the next YouTube video out of a defensive crouch blamed for a precipitous drop in police activity.
On Monday, Johnson was asked to assess the impact on police morale of the sweeping changes co-sponsored by Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Harry Osterman (48th).
“I don’t think that any cop anywhere in this country would like something like that,” the superintendent said.
Johnson said he has “not had a personal conversation with the group” before they chose to go public with their revolutionary proposal.
Sources said GAPA tried to arrange a meeting with the superintendent, but Johnson canceled it.
The plan outlined for aldermen Monday during a series of closed-door briefings calls for the commission to be chosen by elected representatives from the 22 police districts.
The commission would be able choose the Police Board and the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and conduct annual reviews of the superintendent, the COPA chief and the Police Board president.
All three could be fired for cause. It would take a two-thirds vote of the City Council to reverse a firing of the police superintendent ordered by the civilian commission.
Seventeen months ago, a divided City Council approved the first two parts of Emanuel’s police accountability overhaul: A Civilian Office of Police Accountability to replace the Independent Police Review Authority and a deputy inspector general for public safety to audit police practices, recommend changes to the police contract and bird-dog the accountability system.
On that day, restive community leaders furious about Emanuel’s decision to postpone indefinitely the appointment of a civilian oversight board made their feelings known by chanting “Hold the Vote.”
Emanuel stood stoically on the rostrum as the protesters were escorted from the City Council chambers.
After the meeting, the mayor refused to say whether he would insist on controlling a majority of the civilian board. Nor would he say whether its members should be elected.