Lightfoot wants to expand Chicago Police Board powers

Just as the board is launching a search to find a replacement for Eddie Johnson, the mayor wants the board to hear appeals from rejected CPD applicants whose names have been removed from the eligibility list.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently introduced an ordinance aimed at tackling childhood obesity.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Fran Spielman / Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Board is launching a nationwide search to find a permanent replacement for retiring Supt. Eddie Johnson.

The board will soon have yet another responsibility on its hands: hearing appeals from rejected Chicago police applicants whose names have been removed from the department’s eligibility list.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to transfer that responsibility to the Police Board and take it away from the Human Resources Board, which has recently been taking a tougher stance against rejected applicants.

Budget Director Susie Park said the change, included in a sweeping management ordinance tied to the mayor’s 2020 budget, was a logical one.

“The Police Board reviews discipline cases. We thought it made sense for them to review appeals on the front end,” said Park, CPD’s former deputy chief of finance and administration.

“They know their way around the police department. They clearly have the background. It makes sense for them to review those cases.”

The ordinance introduced Wednesday also creates a new Office of Public Safety Administration to follow through on Lightfoot’s promise to merge the administrative functions of CPD, the Chicago Fire Department and the Office of Public Safety Administration.

The executive director — appointed by the mayor with City Council consent — would inherit a host of powers stripped away from the police superintendent and fire commissioner.

Those powers would range from payroll, personnel and time-keeping to procurement, leases, grants, fleet, facilities and asset management and information and technology.

The powers would also extend to recruitment and processing of promotions and medical services “including, but not limited to the examination of members of the public safety departments who are absent from duty on account of sickness or injury and certification of police and fire personnel for any injury or illnesses sustained on or off duty” and those returned to limited duty.

Until now, the city’s Human Resources Board has ruled on appeals from police applicants rejected because of problems in their backgrounds.

From 2005 to 2007, the three-member board appointed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley ruled in favor of one-third of those who filed appeals.

Last fall, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis showed the Human Resources Board was taking a harder line, making it tougher for rejected police applicants to win their appeals.

Of 90 appeals heard through September of last year by a board appointed by now-former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, only 13 of those candidates were returned to the eligibility list.

The tougher stance on rejected applicants’ appeals came at the tail end of a two-year hiring surge that added more than 1,000 officers above and beyond attrition.

In the mid-2000s, clout seemed to reign in the appeals process, according to a 2008 Sun-Times analysis. At that time, rejected police applicants armed with letters of recommendation from elected officials, high-level cops and business people were likely to win their appeals.

More than a decade later, clout appeared to play less of a role.

A who’s-who of Chicago’s elite wrote recommendation letters for rejected police candidates whose appeals were heard last year.

There were letters from two current and one former Chicago aldermen, two Chicago police commanders and a former deputy chief, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago, suburban mayors and police chiefs, as well as even department store heir Marshall Field V and restaurateur Richard Melman.

Only two of those 15 clout-heavy candidates were successful in appealing their rejections, board records show.

One thing didn’t change: Rejected police candidates who had attorneys work on their appeals had a far better chance of winning a favorable decision from the board than those who represent themselves.

Seven of the 21 candidates with attorneys were returned to the eligibility list, compared with five of the 69 without lawyers.

The Sun-Times’ review also found that the police department’s screening process weeded out plenty of applicants who previously had gotten hired by other government agencies. Of the 90 rejected candidates whose cases were decided last year, at least 25 were on a public payroll. The Human Resources Board found in favor of only three of them.

Last year, the police department quietly relaxed its hiring standards to eliminate past marijuana use as an automatic disqualifier, provided candidates had not smoked pot in the last three years.

Testifying before the City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development, Chairman Salvador A. Cicero also disclosed that the three-member board was seeing a lot of appeals from police candidates who have been disqualified for using Adderall.

That’s an addictive drug that works as a stimulant and is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the sleeping disorder narcolepsy.

Cicero said the board changed the way it handles Adderall and marijuana-related disqualifications because the police department has relaxed its standards.

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