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Crime will spike; cop morale will plummet with civilian oversight, alderman says

Ald. Anthony Napolitano | File photo

Crime will spike and police morale will plummet—to the point where veteran officers will lay back and “nobody will want to take this job”—if a civilian oversight board is empowered to fire the police superintendent and establish police policy, a former cop-turned alderman is warning.

Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), the City Council’s champion for Chicago Police officers, condemned the fundamental change in police oversight proposed by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) after 18 months of public hearings.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham has argued that “policing is becoming almost impossible in Chicago” because of redundant layers of oversight 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.”

Even more oversight would bring about “chaos mislabeled as reform,” Graham has said.

Napolitano made a similar argument — even more forcefully.

“We’ve already created a department of reactive police officers [who] don’t want to do anything right now. Now, you’re gonna put civilians on a board who most likely don’t like the police and are gonna look for everything they’re doing wrong as well as have the opportunity to fire our superintendent? This is probably one of the worst decisions we could be making,” Napolitano told the Chicago Sun-Times.”

“We already lost the pro-active police officer. [With civilian oversight], we are gonna completely lose them. It’ll be gone. Our crime rates are going to skyrocket. Nobody’s gonna take this job anymore. What reason do they have?”

Napolitano has served the city as both a police officer and firefighter. His Far Northwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago Police officers.

Last fall, he warned that cops will turn into clock watchers because of an audit on alleged overtime abuse that Napolitano denounced as a “crock of b.s.”

At the time, Inspector General Joe Ferguson had concluded that Chicago is wasting millions on police overtime because of an “unchecked culture of abuse” and “inefficient management” that has failed to control costs, eliminate fraud or prevent officer fatigue.

In arguing this week that yet another layer of police oversight is unnecessary, Napolitano charged that COPA is already going overboard.

“They’re telling the guys who are doing the investigations, `Why are you finding these people not guilty?’ That’s what they’re telling them on the street: `Go find something,’” Napolitano said.

“Now, we’re gonna create another layer of the onion to just fire police officers.”

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot has warned that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will face a furious political backlash if he refuses to endorse a civilian oversight proposal initiated by the Task Force on Police Accountability she co-chaired or attempts to stall a City Council vote on the proposal until after the 2019 mayoral election.

Emanuel has already signaled a go-slow approach by arguing that the civilian oversight he promised two years ago, but failed to deliver must be “complementary — not contradictory” to the city’s “public safety goals.”

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was even more outspoken. Johnson said civilians “don’t have the professional acumen to develop police and strategy” for the Chicago Police Department and allowing them to do so and empowering them to fire the superintendent is “just crazy to me” and “like telling a surgeon how to do his business.”

The plan outlined for aldermen this week calls for a seven-member civilian oversight commission to be chosen by elected representatives from the 22 police districts.

The commission would be empowered to choose the Police Board and COPA chief and conduct annual reviews of the police 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.