Aldermen propose elected community safety oversight board

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Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke (right) is charged with murder in the shooting death of teenager Laquan McDonald. | Provided and file photos

The long-awaited third-leg of Chicago’s police accountability overhaul will finally be delivered Monday, but in a way that will trigger even more controversy.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus, and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) will join forces in proposing an elected district council that would play a role in an entirely new system for investigating police wrongdoing, selecting  a permanent chief of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and hiring and firing Chicago’s police superintendent.

The ordinance Sawyer and Osterman plan to outline for their colleagues during a series of briefings Monday is the product of two years worth of work by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA).

After consulting national experts and holding well over 100 meetings, the coalition of community organizations drafted an ordinance that, Sawyer said, calls for carving the city into 22 districts and electing one representative from each district.

The elected council would interact with district commanders and form a selection committee that would solicit applicants for a commission empowered to oversee the Chicago Police Department, the Police Board and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Whether the Police Board would continue to exist is still an open question, Sawyer said.

“Right now, we have it reporting to the Police Board,” he said.

Sawyer acknowledged the proposed, three-tier system would be a dramatic departure for both the city and the Chicago Police Department.

But he argued that dramatic change is what’s needed to restore public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and by Emanuel’s handling of the video of white police Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at the black teenager.

“People wanted more community input as opposed to mayoral control … And this is a commitment the mayor made, quite honestly,” Sawyer said.

“We didn’t deviate too much from what was asked for in the various reports and the listening sessions we went all over the city to hold. I went to many of those meetings, and this is what was asked for.”

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), the Emanuel ally who serves as chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said he cannot support the ordinance as proposed.

That’s a clear signal that neither can the mayor.

“The elected body they’re putting together would take control of hiring and firing the superintendent. That’s not something we’ve discussed,” Reboyras said.

“They’re jumping the gun. Maybe they’re doing this to light a fire. But they want this body to hire and fire the superintendent of police. That’s a decision that could only be overturned by a two-thirds vote by the City Council. That is not something I can support.”

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.

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” and trying to drown out Reboyras.

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.

“If I get ahead of the community groups, I’ll look like I’m not working with them,” the mayor said on that day.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability, which recommended the appointment of a civilian oversight board.

In the past, she has expressed opposition to an elected civilian oversight board, but she is on board with the three-tiered process outlined in the new ordinance and plans to join the sponsors at a City Hall news conference Tuesday.

On Friday, Sawyer acknowledged the ordinance he and Osterman plan to introduce is likely to be negotiated and changed.

But he said, “This is a good response to what the community asked for. I’m hoping that we keep it substantially intact.”

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