Lightfoot headed for City Council showdown she could lose on volatile issue of civilian police review

“We’re trying to make sure that the community has some say-so in the oversight of the police department. A year ago, Lori Lightfoot said she wanted the same. Today, it looks like she wants community oversight without community,” said Desmon Yancy, coordinator for the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.

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Chicago City Council, meeting on May 29, 2019.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown presiding at her first Chicago City Council meeting last year, could be headed to a vote she may lose on the issue of civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is headed for a City Council showdown she just might lose on the volatile issue of civilian police review.

Lightfoot said Thursday she declared an impasse and decided to move forward with her own version of civilian police review after the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, with whom she has worked “hand-in-glove for well over a year,” failed to make a counter-proposal on “outstanding issues.”

“We were supposed to get very specific answers from GAPA on some outstanding issues at least six weeks ago, if not two months ago. We haven’t heard anything. We’ve got to move forward. Civilian oversight is important. And so, I’m working with members of the City Council to make that a reality,” she said.

Lightfoot was asked Thursday why she refuses to deliver what she promised during the mayoral campaign.

That is: giving a civilian police review board final say on police policy in disagreements between the board the Chicago Police Department, and also the right to take an advisory vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent and the chief of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability that could trigger a similar vote by the City Council.

“Sorry,” the mayor responded to the questioner. “Not negotiating in public with you.”

Grassroots Alliance coordinator Desmon Yancy said the mayor appears to be itching for a City Council showdown — and it’s one she just might lose.

“We’re at 29 [votes]. We’ve been having conversations with a number of other aldermen. This line in the sand that the mayor has is probably gonna push some [more] votes our way,” Yancy said.

“If it’s the mayor vs. the community, that’s a pretty sh---y thing, to be honest. If she wants a showdown, she’s got one.”

GAPA made no counter-proposal because they see no acceptable middle-ground. The demand for final say on police policy and the power to take a no-confidence vote that could intensify public pressure to fire the police superintendent or COPA chief is non-negotiable, Yancy said.

“We met a couple months ago and she said the policy discussion was a non-starter. What else does she expect us to do? It’s a key point of the transformation that we’re trying to make,” Yancy said.

“We’re trying to make sure that the community has some say-so in the oversight of the police department. A year ago, Lori Lightfoot said she wanted the same. Today, it looks like she wants community oversight without community,” he added.

“We don’t have an alternative. We are just diametrically opposed to what transformation looks like and what powers the commission should have.”

Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Harry Osterman (48th) are prime movers behind the GAPA ordinance.

“We think we have the ordinance that should go forward. We’re gonna continue to go forward in getting the necessary votes to get this passed,” Sawyer said Thursday.

“I’m not trying to get into a fight with her [Lightfoot]. Whether she’s right and we’re wrong or whatever. I believe we have the votes. We’re gonna continue pushing forward with what we think is the best prospect for community oversight that’s been put forward thus far.”

Earlier this year, a civilian police commission in Oakland, California voted to fire its police chief.

That hardened Lightfoot’s opposition to giving a civilian oversight panel in Chicago similar powers — even though that’s precisely what she promised as a candidate, running on her police reform credentials as a former police board president and co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability.

Sawyer made no apologies for insisting a civilian review board — and subsequently the City Council — be empowered to take that advisory vote.

“A no-confidence vote is not a firing. A no-confidence vote is simply that. We no longer have confidence in the performance of someone doing those respective jobs,” Sawyer said.

“If we got to that point, then that person is up for termination anyway. Wouldn’t you think so? If it got that far where we’re all considering a no-confidence vote, it’s probably safe to say that person’s tenure is not long for this world.”

Sawyer said he and Osterman are still trying to meet with Lightfoot and her staff to convince the mayor to back off.

“If not, we’re going to put it to a vote. Hopefully, sooner than later,” he said.

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