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Firing of Oakland’s top cop by civilian board could harden Lightfoot’s opposition to granting similar powers here, alderman warns

Four years ago, Anne Kirkpatrick was one of three finalists for Chicago police superintendent to emerge from a search led by Lightfoot. Last week, Kirkpatrick was fired without cause by the Oakland Police Commission.

Anne Kirkpatrick, seen here in July, 2017, was fired without cause last week by the Oakland Police Commission.
AP Photos

A civilian police commission’s decision last week to fire the police chief of Oakland, Ca. without cause could harden Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s opposition to giving similar powers to a civilian oversight panel in Chicago, an influential alderman warned Monday.

The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability has acknowledged that state law gives the mayor of Chicago alone the power to fire the Chicago police superintendent.

But — in negotiations over a proposed city ordinance to create a civilian police oversight panel — GAPA is demanding some sort of mandatory response whenever the panel takes a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent. It could be City Council hearings. It could be a public statement by the mayor about why she agrees or disagrees.

Lightfoot is dead-set against mandatory action. She’s concerned it’ll scare off an already-diminished pool of candidates to replace fired Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, City Hall sources said.

Now, Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, a Lightfoot favorite, has been terminated by an Oakland Police Commission with ultimate firing authority.

“It’ll support the mayor’s hesitation to sign off on the GAPA ordinance,” Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said Monday.

Even so, Taliaferro argued that civilian oversight “worked” in Oakland and “could work here as well.”

“It still puts the ultimate authority on the mayor to keep the superintendent and explain why or agree with the board to fire the superintendent,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham strongly disagreed.

“The lesson from Oakland is you need to have one person who is in charge and they need to report to the mayor of the city,” Graham said.

“If you start to fire police chiefs based on one incident or simply because you don’t like them, you’re not going to get a police department that’s responsive to its citizens. You’re just going to get somebody who is responsible to the person who’s shouting loudest in the room.”

The mayor’s office once again called civilian police oversight “an essential component for building greater transparency, accountability and trust” and said Lightfoot is “committed to finalizing and working with the City Council to pass this legislation as soon as possible.”

“The Oakland Police Commission is very different than what is planned for Chicago,” the statement from the mayor’s office said.

Four years ago, Kirkpatrick was one of three finalists to emerge from a nationwide search led by Lightfoot who was president of the Police Board at the time.

Lightfoot said then that she was impressed by Kirkpatrick’s ability to excel in a “profession that is overwhelmingly male and macho” and said Kirkpatrick went into Spokane with a “mandate to clean things up — and did just that.”

Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected all three names and chose Johnson, who hadn’t even applied for the job, after convincing the City Council to dispatch with the charade of a second nationwide search.

Kirkpatrick then served briefly as head of CPD’s new Bureau of Professional Standards before accepting the job in Oakland.

Reports out of Oakland suggest that her sudden firing was triggered by a series of factors with Chicago parallels.

They include: failing to bolster compliance with court-mandated reforms stemming from a scandal; clearing four officers involved in a fatal 2018 shooting and withholding information demanded by the civilian commission about the purchase of a second armored vehicle.

Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, could not be reached for comment on the message the Oakland firing holds for Chicago.

The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Donelan as calling the Oakland Police Commission “anti-police.” He wondered, “Who is going to come here in this environment?”

In addition to a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent that would trigger mandatory action, GAPA is demanding that the seven-member Chicago commission be allowed to establish police policy, even in instances when CPD is balking.

“GAPA doesn’t want to move off of that. They feel they’ll be just as capable of writing police policy,” Taliaferro said Monday.

GAPA coordinator Desmon Yancy has told the Sun-Times that Lightfoot strongly believes policy drafting “should rest in the hands of” CPD. Otherwise, rank-and-file officers would “feel as though they were having policy forced upon them” and it would be “harder to implement those sorts of policies,” Yancy said.

Taliaferro warned that, if the civilian police review ordinance is not approved at the March 18 City Council meeting, it could push the entire process back until next year.

That’s because the seven-member commission would be nominated by elected representatives from the 22 police districts who need time to circulate nominating petitions and gather signatures to get on the November ballot.