Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader responded forcefully Wednesday to this week’s double-barreled political blast — against a West Side police academy and for civilian police oversight — by newly re-appointed Police Board President Lori Lightfoot.
“I’m not surprised. She’s trying to figure out next steps and keeping her options open. Statements like that keep options open,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th).
“She’s definitely looking to position herself as a spokesman in the African American community for [a 2019 mayoral campaign or] whatever purpose. Statements like that keep her in the news and in the forefront.”
On Monday, Lightfoot told the City Club of Chicago that the Chicago Police Department “desperately needs” a new training academy, but Emanuel’s plan to build a $95 million complex in West Garfield Park is “ill-conceived.”
“Putting this edifice to policing in this high-crime, impoverished neighborhood where relations between the police and the community are fraught without a clear plan for community engagement is a mistake,” Lightfoot said.
“The allocation of any funds for a police academy … is viewed by many as further affirmation that needs of the people will never be prioritized over those of the police.”
The following day, Lightfoot warned the mayor who reappointed her that he will face a furious political backlash if he refuses to empower a civilian oversight board to fire the police superintendent and establish police policy or if he tries to stall a City Council vote on the proposal until after the 2019 mayoral election.
On Wednesday, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) fired back on both fronts.
He noted that local Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and her West Side colleagues all view the academy as a catalyst for economic development and a boon to both public safety and police relations. Lightfoot’s opinion, O’Connor said, is no more valid than theirs.
O’Connor was equally unmoved by Lightfoot’s claim that the “young people of color” who have organized around the Twitter hashtag #NoCopAcademy” view “every dollar spent in support of the police” as “another example of divestment in these neighborhoods.”
“We get sued all the time for actions by the Police Department. People point to the training as part of the problem. We’re fixing that problem. … You have to do adequate training. You have to have adequate facilities. We’re gonna have to put the facility somewhere and set aside the money it takes to build the facility,” he said.
“They’re suggesting that money not spent on their priorities is a bad expenditure. If they’re saying we need more money for public education and job creation, that’s factual. But that just means we need more money. It doesn’t mean you can take it out of another priority and say that you’re done. ”
As for the sweeping civilian oversight proposal, O’Connor said the mayor doesn’t need Lightfoot to tell him how important the issue is to restore public trust shattered by Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
But, the issues are complex and the compromise that is demanded will take time to hammer out, he said.
“There’s been the opening of a dialogue. My assumption is, it was intended to be a dialogue and not a dictate. I’m not sure that the whole thing is acceptable. But I do think it’s a good opening gambit,” he said.
“It’s important for us to meet with the proponents, find out what their priorities are and where they think there is an opportunity for change and compromise and move in that direction.”
Civilian oversight is “a priority for us” and Emanuel has no intention of trying to stall until after the election, O’Connor said. But neither will the mayor be rushed into a solution.
“I don’t think he’s gonna say it needs to be done by this date or that date. It will need to be done right,” he said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham has argued that “policing is becoming almost impossible in Chicago” because of layers of oversight that already exist by the FBI, the Illinois State Police, the state’s attorney’s office, a Civilian Office of Police Accountability that has officers “under virtual siege” and an “exceedingly biased media.”
He has argued that even more oversight would bring about “chaos mislabeled as reform.”
O’Connor calls the union opposition “a perspective that has to be taken into account,” adding: “It just shows you this is not an easy issue. It’s a complex issue. Complexity will dictate speed” — or the lack of it.