Reform advocates complicate showdown over civilian oversight of CPD

SHARE Reform advocates complicate showdown over civilian oversight of CPD

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa wants to use a parliamentary rule to pry his police-oversight ordinance out of the committee where it has been stuck since 2016. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Police reform advocates on Thursday further complicated the high-stakes showdown over civilian police oversight — by pushing their stalled plan to abolish the Police Board, get rid of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and replace both with an elected 22-member council.

The plan championed by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression has been languishing in the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety for nearly two years.

It calls for the election of one representative from each of the city’s 22 police districts to a four-year term with a dedicated staff and an annual salary that would match what aldermen are paid.

The elected panel would be responsible for hiring and firing Chicago’s police superintendent and establishing police policy. It also would investigate police shootings and other allegations of excessive force and police abuse and pass judgment on police discipline.

The Police Board and COPA would be abolished.

“What we truly need is a democratically-elected body to replace everything that’s currently there,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said Thursday.

“The question here is, are we going to go for full democratic control and get rid of the existing bureaucracy that has failed? Or are we going to try to subsume that bureaucracy under an indirectly democratically-elected body that is going to have to struggle?”

Last week, the stage was set for a bruising battle about civilian police oversight after a mayoral ally introduced a pair of rival plans that neuter a plan the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability crafted after 18 months of public hearings.

Gone from the rival plans, championed by Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th), are the all-important power to fire the police superintendent, establish police policy, choose the Police Board and head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and fire the Police Board president and COPA chief.

Also missing was subpoena power and any mention of it taking a two-thirds vote of the City Council to reverse a firing of the police superintendent ordered by the civilian oversight commission.

On Thursday, Ramirez-Rosa accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of being the heavy hand behind the rival plans.

And he vowed to use a parliamentary maneuver known as a Rule 41 to force a City Council vote on the stalled “Civilian Police Accountability Council” whenever the mayor’s forces attempt to move theirs.

But the fact that Ramirez-Rosa was the only alderman at Thursday’s news conference speaks volumes about his chances of attracting the 26 votes needed for passage.

Sources said the rookie alderman has no chance. Critics contend CPAC goes too far in blowing up the existing system and is simply unrealistic — and GAPA’s more moderate ordinance stirred controversy enough. “No one will agree to” the more draconian proposal, the sources said.

Ramirez-Rosa was asked what he will have accomplished if he doesn’t have the votes.

“What we’ve accomplished is bringing forth the demand that 50,000 Chicagoans have said they want to see. … They are owed a vote on the floor. This is democracy,” he said.

“It’s owed to Laquan McDonald. It’s owed to Rekia Boyd. It’s owed to the victims of police violence. It’s owed to the 50,000 Chicagoans doing work on the ground demanding true civilian oversight.”

Frank Chapman, field secretary for the Chicago Alliance Against Police Repression, said proposals to reform the Chicago Police Department “come and go, but nothing ever changes.”

“The latest insult to the people is the announcement by Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson that Robert Rialmo, the CPD officer who murdered Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones over two years ago, will remain on the force, unpunished in any way,” Chapman said.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot refused to comment on the renewed push for the most extreme of the civilian oversight proposals.

Last week, Lightfoot accused Emanuel of blindsiding GAPA and betraying the promise he made to deliver meaningful civilian oversight.

“Without any consultation or warning, the mayor has now caused two proposals to be entered into City Council intended to completely undercut the groundswell of community support for the GAPA proposal,” Lightfoot said then.

“He’s created a very stark contrast between the status quo and real change and reform. The battle lines are drawn. … It gives the citizens of Chicago the opportunity to determine whether they want to maintain the status quo or move forward in a different direction that gives the community an opportunity to exercise oversight over one of the most important institutions in Chicago.”

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