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Lightfoot pressured to deliver the civilian police review she promised

Two issues are standing in the way of the ordinance: Demands that a civilian oversight board have the power take a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent that would trigger “some action” by the mayor or City Council and that the oversight board have the power to establish police policy, even if the Chicago Police Department disagrees.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides at a City Council meeting.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Two years ago, Lori Lightfoot demanded that then Mayor Rahm Emanuel empower a civilian oversight board to fire the police superintendent and establish police policy.

Now that Lightfoot is mayor instead of the police board president who chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability, both of those issues have emerged as sticking points standing in the way of civilian police review.

On Thursday, the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability held a City Hall news conference to demand that Lightfoot honor the promise she made two months before becoming a mayoral candidate.

GAPA Coordinator Desmon Yancy acknowledged that state law gives the mayor alone the power to fire the superintendent.

But the stalemate is over what would happen when the civilian review board takes a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent.

GAPA negotiators want it to trigger “some action” by the mayor or the City Council. It could be City Council hearings. It could be a public statement by the mayor about why she either agrees or disagrees with the vote of no-confidence.

“The whole idea of a community oversight commission is to be more than advisory. If a majority of people feel that the police superintendent is missing the mark on the way police should be acting in black and brown communities or feel as though they have lost faith similar to the [former police Supt.] Eddie Johnson situation a few months ago, it should trigger some sort of action,” Yancy said Thursday.

“If the commission is only able to take a vote that doesn’t trigger any action, then you have a commission that doesn’t really meet the standards that the mayor wrote about in the police accountability task force document before she was the mayor.”

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the stalemate.

As Yancy put it, “The city’s position is the commission can take a vote. But they don’t want it to trigger any action. That’s where the divide is.”

GAPA is also demanding that the seven-member commission be allowed to establish police policy, even in instances when the Chicago Police Department is balking.

“The mayor seems to feel differently — that policy drafting should rest in the hands of the police department. There’s some thinking that the police department rank-and-file would feel as though they were having policy forced upon them. It would be harder to implement those sorts of policies,” Yancy said.

The latest version of the ordinance calls for a seven-member commission nominated by elected representatives from the 22 police districts.

That’s why time is running out to resolve the stalemate.

If the City Council doesn’t approved the ordinance in March, it won’t give candidates enough time to learn about the openings and circulate nominating petitions to gather enough signatures to get on the November ballot.

“The petition process starts in late March. It runs through the end of June. So, we’re looking at a really short window to find people who are interested in running in 66 brand new elected positions. Many of ‘em have no experience in running campaigns. So that process is going to be arduous,” Yancy said.

“If we are unable to pass an ordinance soon, we end up really putting these folks at a disadvantage and set us up as a wobbly leg of this table of police accountability efforts.”

Yancy argued that Lightfoot has “had a rough 300 days,” adding, “To, what some would perceive, let the city down again would be a difficult challenge for her to overcome.”