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Lightfoot’s civilian police review ordinance hits snag

Lightfoot wants to be the final arbiter in disputes. The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability disagrees.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham (right) talks to Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) (left) before Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting. Graham showed up to testify against civilian police review, but he never got the chance.
Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham (right) talks to Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) (left) before Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting. Graham showed up to testify against civilian police review, but he never got the chance.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to fill the missing link in police reform hit a snag Tuesday, just days after the civilian police review ordinance was hailed as a great compromise.

The 11th-hour disagreement between the Lightfoot administration and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability was over who would have the final say on establishing police policy whenever there is a disagreement between the civilian oversight board and the Chicago Police Department.

The mayor’s version makes her the final arbiter in policy-making disputes even though she would have to explain in writing why she disagrees with the commission. GAPA is insisting that the seven-member civilian oversight board be empowered to impose its will on policy, even when the CPD and the mayor disagree.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the former Chicago police officer now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, sided with the community groups.

“I’m supportive of the commission being able to make the final decision regarding policy…..That’s why we are putting this commission in place,” Taliaferro said.

“If you go all the way back to….2016 when we first started addressing the need for civilian oversight, it was with the condition that this panel or commission would have some type of leg. Stripping them of all of that — you begin to ask whether or not you even need a commission if they have no authority and no responsibilities or no power.”

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), the committee’s vice-chairman and a prime mover on the civilian oversight ordinance, agreed that the commission “should have final say on policy.”

“The key fundamental…is to help get the community more engaged in policing and build trust, which we desperately need in Chicago. That’s kind of our ultimate goal and something that we’re working on,” Osterman said.

The mayor’s office refused to comment on specifics of the policy-making dispute. Its statement claimed the ordinance was being held “following helpful feedback” received during last week’s aldermanic briefings.

“The City is working with GAPA to address remaining questions on this new governance structure and the plan for its implementation,” the mayor’s office statement said.

“As part of our effort to ensure aldermen continue to have ample time to review such a significant proposal, we are holding the ordinance so that the City and GAPA can continue to collectively address their feedback.”

GAPA coordinator Desmon Yancy and his chief negotiator Adam Gross could not be reached for comment.

Taliaferro said he’s hopeful that, yet another round of negotiations between GAPA and the mayor’s office will resolve the policymaking dispute in time to allow the seven-member commission to be nominated by elected representatives from the 22 police districts in time to meet a July 15, 2021 deadline.

That’s a tall order, since those elected representatives need time to circulate nominating petitions and gather signatures to get on the November ballot.

Taliaferro refused to say what he would do about the long-stalled ordinance if the two sides cannot agree. He would only say he would cross that bridge when he comes to it.

“There’s been a lot of compromises [on both sides.] But because we’ve gotten to a final issue, it’s either A or B. There no room for in between….Either the mayor will have final authority on policy or…the commission will have final authority,” the chairman said.

Taliaferro’s decision not to call for a vote Tuesday — or even hear debate — on the civilian oversight ordinance prompted Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham to make an unnecessary trip to City Hall.

He came to testify and even signed a witness slip, but left without saying a word to aldermen.

While the mayor’s office and GAPA continue to haggle over who should have the final say over police policy, Graham reiterated his longstanding opposition to any form of civilian police review.

“The police department is well overseen by many agencies. This idea that there is somehow the need to have additional oversight is really ridiculous,” said Graham, who was forced into a run-off last week after finishing a distant second behind John Catanzara.

“Now they want to spend even more money on people to oversee the police, but they won’t give the police even a contract for almost three years. They need to get their priorities straight.”