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Lightfoot to deliver her version of civilian police oversight on Thursday, ally says

Ald. Chris Taliaferro said he has no doubt Lightfoot will want to retain power to set the CPD budget and hire and fire the police superintendent, COPA chief and Police Board president. And she should, he added.

Chicago police officers block Michigan Avenue at 36th Street, using a CTA bus and their bodies while protesters march toward Chicago police headquarters on June 4, 2020.
Chicago police officers block Michigan Avenue at 36th Street while protesters march toward CPD headquarters last June during a march to demand justice for George Floyd, who had been killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will deliver her own plan for civilian police oversight on Thursday, a plan almost certainly stripped of policymaking, budgeting and hiring and firing powers coveted by police reform advocates.

After months of broken promises, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said “the mayor’s team” has told him “I should have something in hand on Thursday.”

Taliaferro said he hasn’t seen or been briefed on the mayor’s version and has no idea how it will read.

But he has no doubt Lightfoot is determined to retain the final say on disputes over police policy along with the power to determine the Chicago Police Department’s budget and hire and fire the police superintendent, COPA chief and Police Board president.

“She had concern about not being able to weigh in on policymaking when it comes down to policies that affect police officers. The other ordinances essentially took her out of the process. And any mayor would be somewhat cautious of not being able to hire or fire a superintendent, chief administrator [of COPA] and Police Board members. Our mayor is apprehensive about that as well,” Taliaferro said.

“The mayor will have to wear the hat, no matter who appoints. As the chief executive of the city, any mayor would have to wear the hat of what goes wrong and what goes right with our police department. So, it would be this mayor’s contention — and mine as well — they should be involved in the process.”

Ald. Chris Taliaferro at a Chicago City Council meeting.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro believes the mayor should retain more power over the Chicago Police department than a proposed civilian oversight plan would provide. The mayor is expected to unveil her own plan on Thursday.
Sun-Times file

A former Chicago police officer, Taliaferro emphatically denied the mayor’s version would be tantamount to “gutting” the powers of a civilian oversight panel. To the contrary, he portrayed it as preserving the separation of powers.

“We cannot converge all the powers of city government on one authority. Because then, the fight or the comments down the road will be, ‘Why does this organization have so much power? Why isn’t this power dispersed? Where are the checks-and-balances?’ Taliaferro said.

“If you convey the power to hire, the power to fire, the power to create budget, the power to do everything in one organization, where are the checks-and-balances?”

Earlier this week, the City Council’s Black Caucus joined the Hispanic and Progressive caucuses in endorsing a civilian police oversight plan summarily rejected by Lightfoot.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the Black Caucus, said then that aldermen were tired of waiting for Lightfoot to honor a campaign promise to deliver civilian police oversight — with the power to hire and fire the police superintendent and be the final arbiter in policy disputes — within her first 100 days in office.

“We definitely need some level of civilian oversight and accountability in the police department in addition to what we have today. This is what our residents have asked for. …This is an ordinance that delivers that,” Ervin told the Sun-Times.

“If the mayor sees something different, she’s obligated to put something on the table. To date, nothing has been put on the table. … We, as a City Council, have been waiting on that for a number of months. She definitely has an opportunity to put something on the table to have a conversation. But you can’t negotiate against yourself.”

The compromise endorsed by the three major caucuses would ask Chicago voters in the 2022 primary to approve a binding referendum empowering a civilian police oversight commission to hire and fire the police superintendent, negotiate police contracts and set CPD’s budget.

Lightfoot would lose the power to hire and fire the police superintendent. Her Law Department and hand-picked negotiators would lose the power to negotiate police contracts.

And Lightfoot and aldermen would lose their power to establish the CPD budget. That power would be held by an 11-member civilian oversight commission — nine elected, two appointed by the mayor.

Even if voters reject the binding referendum, the 11-member commission would have final say in disputes over police policy unless two-thirds of the Council decides otherwise. The commission also would be empowered to take a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent and hire and fire the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Lightfoot has said she “wears the jacket” for Chicago violence and she’s not about to “outsource” control of the Chicago Police Department to a civilian police oversight commission.

The support of that compromise from three major caucuses could set the stage for Lightfoot’s first City Council defeat.

But, Taliaferro said: “If the mayor proposes an ordinance, it certainly would put everything else up in the air. Remember, most of our caucuses do not vote in bloc whenever a vote is taken. Even though the caucus may support it, you may not have the individual vote of every single member.”