Lightfoot declares impasse, goes her own way on civilian police review

Desmon Yancy of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability accused the mayor of reneging on a pivotal campaign promise: “Here’s a mayor who ran on transformation, ran on doing things different. And this looks like more of the same.”

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets police officers before a press conference at the 10th District Police Station in Lawndale Thursday morning, Aug. 20, 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets police officers before a press conference at the 10th District Police Station in Lawndale in August.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to fill the missing link in police reform hit a snag days before the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus.

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

The mayor’s version made her the final arbiter. The Grassroots Alliance insisted the seven-member civilian oversight board be empowered to impose its will on policy, even when the CPD and the mayor disagree.

Now the mayor is declaring an impasse, saying she intends to move forward with her version of civilian police review. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the former Chicago Police officer who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said he’s had a “change of heart” and now sides with the mayor.

Grassroots Alliance coordinator Desmon Yancy accused Lightfoot of reneging on a pivotal campaign promise that became even more important after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

“If you have a dispute between the police department and the commission and the mayor is the tie-breaker, the police department can use that as a crutch — and probably will — at every turn to thwart the work of the commission. That looks more like a symbolic gesture than the real transformation that’s needed,” Yancy said Wednesday.

“Here’s a mayor who ran on transformation, ran on doing things different. And this looks like more of the same.”

Earlier this year, Taliaferro said he was “supportive of the commission being able to make the final decision regarding policy.” Without it, Taliaferro said: “You begin to ask whether or not you even need a commission if they have no authority and no responsibilities and no power.”

On Wednesday, however, Taliaferro told the Sun-Times he now believes Lightfoot should have the final say on police policy disputes because her “political future” is on the line.

Yancy accused Taliaferro of “being more responsive to the mayor than the people who elected him,” adding: “He’s a committee head. That’s probably got a lot to do with it.”

Taliaferro countered, “I’ve been committee chairman for 18 months. I can honestly say the mayor has never pressured me on anything.”

Yancy would be “surprised” if Lightfoot can muster the 26 votes needed for Council approval of her own version of civilian police review.

“What we’re hearing is aldermen support an ordinance like ‘GAPA-plus,’” he said, referring to the latest version of civilian police review drafted in response to the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Harry Osterman (48th), prime movers behind the GAPA ordinance, said they were “disappointed” in the mayor’s comments and “remain committed to the GAPA ordinance, currently supported by 29 aldermen.”

“GAPA has been stalled, not by its hard-working community leaders, but by those unwilling to give up control over police reform policy,” their statement said.

The new, stronger ordinance has not yet been introduced. It would allow five of seven members of the civilian oversight board to take an advisory vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent and/or the chief of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability that could intensify public pressure to fire either or both if 26 aldermen do the same.

GAPA’S new version would also set a budget floor for the civilian review board: 0.22% of the Chicago Police Department’s budget, excluding grant funds. That would be $2.8 million based on this year’s CPD budget.

Earlier this year, a civilian police commission in Oakland, Calif. voted to fire its police chief.

That hardened Lightfoot’s opposition to giving a civilian oversight panel in Chicago similar powers — even though that’s precisely what she promised as a candidate for mayor, running on her police reform credentials as a former police board president and co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability.

“You need to look no further than Oakland and what has happened there to see what the downside of that can be,” a top mayoral aide told the Sun-Times earlier this year.

“The mayor felt very strongly that the power needs to remain with her. … She’s still gonna have to deal with it in the court of public opinion. She still has to deal with her police commission. But it’s not gonna be something that triggers a series of operational things that leaves the superintendent questioning his job or her job.”

During a town hall meeting earlier this week hosted by The TRiiBE, Lightfoot said it was “unfortunate” GAPA has “not come forward to us with a concrete proposal that solves some of these outstanding issues.”

“We’ve got to get it done. We’ve waited too long. … The time is now for us to act. We can’t wait any longer,” she said.

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