City Council must stop dragging its feet on civilian police oversight commission

Qualified and committed Interim Commission candidates have been named and are eager to get to work. Deadlines have passed. Council members should pick Interim Commission candidates by the next council meeting on April 27.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot reacst after an ordinance for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department passed by a 36-to-13 vote during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot reacts after an ordinance for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department passed by a 36-to-13 vote during a City Council meeting on July 21, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Last summer, after a decades-long struggle for robust police accountability, the people of Chicago secured a major step forward with the passage of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance, which created what is arguably the most democratic and progressive system of civilian oversight in the United States.

The “People’s Ordinance,” as it came to be called, garnered the support of more than 100 community organizations and thousands of local residents, many of whom were galvanized to action in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. In July 2021, the ECPS ordinance passed through City Council with a 36-vote supermajority and the signature of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, ushering in a new era for policing in Chicago.

Opinion bug


Our coalition is continuing to push forward the necessary work to build a Chicago where everyone is safe. We need City Council’s help.

The ECPS ordinance will transform the systems of policing in Chicago. It creates a city-wide Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, where seven community members serve as representatives of the public, holding CPD accountable to the people it exists to protect. The commission’s powers and responsibilities include playing a key role in selecting and removing key police leadership; developing department policy; establishing goals and evaluating progress for CPD; making budget recommendations; promoting transparency and engagement; and recommending evidence-based and non-policing solutions to violence.

The ordinance also created district councils in each of Chicago’s 22 police districts, where directly elected local residents serve as the community’s eyes and ears on the ground. They will gather input on police department policies and practices and serve as a bridge for the community to law enforcement and the commission.

Laying the foundation for this transformative new system is the Interim Commission conceived by ECPS, which should already be at work. According to the ordinance City Council agreed to, the Rules Committee should have submitted an approved list of 14 Interim Commission nominees to Mayor Lori Lightfoot for consideration by Dec. 1, 2021. The mayor was supposed to have appointed the seven members of the Interim Commission by Jan. 1. 

It is now April, and the City Council is continuing to lag on the requirements it set up for itself in the ordinance. We acknowledge and respect the City Council’s competing priorities, such as the pandemic, ward remapping, and other issues facing Chicago residents. But our coalition is concerned that failure to prioritize this process is blunting the momentum we need to effectively implement the ordinance for which our communities fought so hard.

Act with urgency

Time is of the essence. We know that during the summer months, the rise in violence leads to increased interaction between residents and police. This is especially true as Lightfoot and CPD prioritize a plan to have 1.5 million “positive community interactions,” without any clear standards or ability to track and qualify such interactions. Additionally, the recent uptick in crime and the sensationalized media response has led officials in Chicago and beyond to call for expensive and ineffective “tough on crime” responses.

We desperately need an Interim Commission seated soon to ensure that preventative, proactive, community- and evidence-based approaches to public safety are prioritized. 

The longer City Council delays in inaugurating the Interim Commission, the longer CPD continues to make life-and-death policy decisions around foot pursuits, ShotSpotter and use of force, without any community oversight whatsoever. 

Since ECPS passed last summer, our coalition has continued to work toward effective implementation. We have worked closely with City Council members to ensure the Interim Commission is comprised of people the community can trust. We have recommended qualified and committed Interim Commission candidates who have been directly impacted by police violence, are proponents of restorative justice and believe strongly in police accountability. These people are eager to serve and ready to get to work.

We are also recruiting candidates to run for district councils in their police district in next year’s municipal elections.

We are doing our work. We need the City Council to hold up their end of the bargain.

We call on alderpeople to act with urgency in naming to the Interim Commission qualified candidates who are passionate about community, public safety and police accountability by the next City Council meeting on April 27.

We urge Mayor Lightfoot to do the same when she selects the commission members in May.

Frank Chapman is a leader of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) Coalition and education director for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

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