An influential alderman has canceled Friday’s showdown vote on the volatile issue of civilian police review to give Mayor Lori Lightfoot time to draft a substitute ordinance that waters down the panel’s authority to make policy for the Chicago Police Department.
The Committee on Public Safety had been scheduled to meet Friday to choose between proposals drafted by the Civilian Police Accountability Council and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.
The Grassroots Alliance proposal is the more moderate of the two. Chairman Chris Taliaferro told the Sun-Times earlier this week he expected that version to pass.
But that was before Lightfoot asked Taliaferro to cancel the meeting to allow her to introduce a substitute ordinance that, among other things, would empower the mayor to break disputes whenever she and the commission disagree on proposed changes to police policy.
Taliaferro has put himself in the political crosshairs for doing the mayor’s bidding. When ONE Northside’s Police Accountability Team got wind of the cancellation, they complained that Lightfoot’s ordinance was “created with no community input” and urged supporters to call Taliaferro and demand that the meeting go on as scheduled.
Later Thursday, the Grassroots Alliance and CPAC issued a joint statement, saying they were working toward a compromise ordinance and “have already agreed on what they view as the most central issue to empowering communities: a citywide police accountability body that must have the final say on police policy.”
The groups called a news conference for Friday morning.
Taliaferro defended his decision to cancel. He also agreed Lightfoot should have final say in disputes over police policy.
“The mayor wears everything — whether good or bad — that happens in this city. It’s her leadership that is either going to suffer or actually receive the accolades from this city based on her leadership,” Taliaferro said.
“Giving up that control for the police department to the commission to make decisions regarding the operations of our police department is a big step. But you have to maintain some type of, not necessarily control, but say if you’re going to wear the hat and shoulder the burden if something goes wrong.”
Lightfoot has also objected to empowering the civilian board to take an advisory vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent.
Taliaferro said he has no idea how the mayor’s substitute ordinance will address that. But he has no problem giving the civilian board power to initiate a no-confidence vote, so long as a two-thirds vote of the City Council is needed to remove the superintendent.
“That’s the community’s voice speaking. I’m not in opposition to a vote of no-confidence,” he said.
Last year, a civilian police commissioner in Oakland, California, 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, running on her police reform credentials as a former police board president and co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), a prime mover behind the Grassroots ordinance, said Lightfoot made a mistake by asking Taliaferro to cancel the vote and an even bigger mistake by insisting on final say over police policy.
“We think we have the votes and we’re gonna push forward with our ordinance,” he said.
“The public, in a true democracy, should have the final say.”
Same goes for the opportunity to take a no-confidence vote in the police superintendent that would trigger a City Council vote, Sawyer said.
“If it got to a point where we’re issuing a no-confidence vote, that person should have been gone a long time ago anyway,” Sawyer said.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), co-champion of the Grassroots ordinance, said Lightfoot “derailed an opportunity to advance civilian oversight” that is long overdue in Chicago.
“The community would have final say on policy, which we feel is important, as well as district representatives. We look at this as a way to bridge a huge gap in our city when it comes to safety. A lot of people recognize that,” Osterman said.
“We had the votes to get this out of committee. We’re committed to getting this done.”
Taliaferro isn’t concerned about wearing the jacket for canceling the meeting under pressure from the mayor.
“It’s the responsible thing to do if the mayor of this city wants to introduce a substitute ordinance on any matter regarding the operation and governance of this city,” he said.