Mayor Rahm Emanuel will face a furious political backlash if he refuses to empower a civilian oversight board to fire the police superintendent and establish police policy or attempts to stall a City Council vote until after the 2019 mayoral election, Police Board President Lori Lightfoot warned Tuesday.
Sounding more and more like a mayoral challenger, Lightfoot embraced the sweeping proposal drafted by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) and warned Emanuel to get on board a “ship that is sailing.”
“The mayor endorsed this process two years ago….Any effort to stall it and not let it see the light of day, not engage in the City Council process….will be met with extreme, extreme hostility. And it will be taken out on them in February of 2019,” Lightfoot said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham was equally outspoken in opposition to civilian oversight, underscoring the political box Emanuel is in.
Graham said “policing is becoming almost impossible in Chicago” because of layers of oversight that already exist by the FBI, the Illinois State Police, the state’s attorney’s office, a Civilian Office of Police Accountability that has officers “under virtual siege” and an “exceedingly biased media.”
“The democracy this group supposedly demands already exists. The mayor is elected. So is the City Council. Complaints about the police and new policies emerge from and are endorsed by this institution,” Graham wrote in an emailed statement.
Graham said failure to “convince these elected officials and the general public that the police are villains … is not a green light to override the city’s elected officials to push their own measures. That’s not democracy. It’s chaos mislabeled as reform.”
Emanuel has already signaled a go-slow approach by arguing that the civilian oversight he promised two years ago, but failed to deliver must be “complementary — not contradictory” to the city’s “public safety goals.”
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has argued that civilians “don’t have the professional acumen to develop strategy” for the police department.
Lightfoot co-chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability that forced the mayor to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority and recommended the civilian oversight board.
At a City Hall news conference Tuesday called to make the case for the sweeping ordinance, Lightfoot said she expected opposition from an FOP that she claims has been on a “very steady path of saying ‘no’ to everything that looks like progress.”
But she urged the mayor, aldermen and police officers to remain “open to discussion and debate,” even about the volatile proposal to empower the civilian oversight board to fire the superintendent for cause.
“It’s not gonna be something that’s knee-jerk — that, ‘I don’t like the way you staff the police in my neighborhood and so, you’re fired.’ There’s a very rigorous and reasonable process that has been put in place,” Lightfoot said.
The plan outlined for aldermen this week during a series of closed-door briefings calls for the seven-member commission to be chosen by elected representatives from the 22 police districts.
The commission would be empowered to choose the Police Board and the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) that replaced IPRA and conduct annual reviews of the superintendent, the COPA chief and the Police Board president.
All three could be fired for cause. It would take a two-thirds vote of the City Council to reverse a firing of the police superintendent ordered by the civilian commission.
Only six aldermen joined co-sponsors Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Harry Osterman (48th) at Tuesday’s news conference: Ricardo Munoz (22nd); Chris Taliaferro (29th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Deb Mell (33rd); James Cappleman (46th) and Ameya Pawar (47th).
That’s a clear indication that supporters face an uphill battle.
Taliaferro, a former Chicago Police officer, was the biggest surprise.
Taliaferro argued that change is needed to restore public trust shattered by the shooting of Laquan McDonald and by Emanuel’s handling of the video of white Officer Jason Van Dyke firing sixteen shots at the black teenager.
“On the West Side of Chicago, we need change. Crime rates have continued to rise. Murder rates have continued to rise. And that’s because we have a gap [in] trust between the police and the community that needs to be shortened,” Taliaferro said.
“New York has gotten it right. L.A. has gotten it right. There’s crime reductions like you’ve not seen in Chicago. If we can bring about that crime reduction and that same trust and transparency with this ordinance, then I support it.”