City Council committee ratifies arbitrator’s award with 1,500 police supervisors

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who spent three hours testifying in the arbitration, has called the ruling a victory that ends a ban on anonymous complaints and lays the groundwork for similar disciplinary changes in the rank-and-file contract.

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Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

A City Council committee on Wednesday ratified an arbitrator’s ruling that includes some disciplinary changes for police supervisors,.

Sun-Times file

A City Council committee on Wednesday ratified an arbitrator’s ruling with police supervisors amid claims that the modest disciplinary changes made don’t “rise to the moment” created by the death of George Floyd.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot spent three hours testifying before the arbitrator and has portrayed his ruling as a big victory that ends the 40-year ban on anonymous complaints and will lay the groundwork for similar disciplinary changes with the larger and more militant Fraternal Order of Police.

But BPI Executive Director Cara Hendrickson and University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman rained on the mayor’s parade before Wednesday’s unanimous vote by the City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development.

Hendrickson mentioned four missing reforms that had been demanded by the Task Force on Police Accountability that Lightfoot co-chaired:

• Signed affidavits are still required.

• In order to investigate anonymous complaints, the city must first override a provision of the union contract and allow the accused supervisor to challenge that override.

• The name of anyone who brings a complaint must be disclosed to an accused officer prior to questioning. 

• And with the exception of complaints about excessive force, verbal abuse or criminal conduct, unless a complaint is sustained by COPA or the Bureau of Internal Affairs, the information cannot be used in a future investigation.

“The changes that were made by the arbitrator’s decisions are modest improvements at best to the existing contract. And the time that we’re in now calls for a moment of really addressing some of these issues head-on,” Hendrickson said.

Futterman argued “virtually all of the barriers” to police discipline pinpointed by the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department remain in the police supervisors’ arbitration.

“The city failed to even contest the vast majority of things that are required under the consent decree that the city’s own task force … and the U.S. Department of Justice have identified as barriers to police accountability much less demonstrate the best efforts required by a court order,” Futterman said.

“In my view, this proposed contract does put the city at risk of being held in contempt of court by a federal judge overseeing this decree and indeed, even according to the arbitrator’s opinion, didn’t try to address eight out of the 11 provisions identified by the mayor’s own task force that needed to be eliminated.”

Ald. Matt Martin (47th) asked whether the city even tried to eliminate the need for an affidavit override.

“No, we did not. It was a tactical, strategic decision on our part,” said labor negotiator David Johnson.

“The interest arbitration process is an excessively cautious and conservative process....Our concern was that, if we made a proposal that an arbitrator didn’t deem to be serious, it might actually adversely impact our other proposals. We didn’t want to die on any particular hill. We wanted to win the reforms we needed.”

Jim Franczek, the city’s chief labor negotiator for decades, said the arbitrator’s ruling will “set the ground rules” for negotiations with the FOP expected to begin in earnest on Thursday. 

“That does not mean that it will automatically go with FOP. … They are extremely aggressive [and] have taken litigiousness to a whole new level of obnoxiousness,” Franczek said.

Top mayoral aide Mike Frisch said some changes the city wants and needs — including state licensing of police officers — will be pursued in Springfield.

“We are absolutely aware of this moment that we’re in and the things that may not have been possible before may be possible now,” he said.

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