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Lightfoot delivers watered-down plan for civilian oversight of Chicago police

Instead of allowing the seven-member commission to choose Chicago’s police superintendent, Lightfoot would retain that coveted power for herself and future mayors.

Chicago police form a line with batons out after an earlier clash with protesters near Logan Square Park in Chicago Friday, April 16, 2021, a day after the release of video that shows a Chicago police officer fatally shoot a 13-year-old last month.
Chicago police form a line with batons out after an earlier clash with protesters near Logan Square Park in Chicago on April 16.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot finally delivered her own plan for civilian police oversight on Monday, but it does not include the sweeping policymaking, budgeting and hiring and firing powers she promised during the mayoral campaign.

Instead of allowing the seven-member commission to choose Chicago’s police superintendent, Lightfoot would retain that coveted power for herself and future mayors.

The civilian panel would have the power to “assess performance of and set goals for” the police superintendent, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Police Board president, under the mayor’s proposal.

If the police superintendent’s job becomes vacant, the civilian oversight panel would essentially do what the Police Board does now: Conduct a nationwide search and recommend candidates from which the mayor would choose.

That same process would be followed in filling vacancies in the jobs of as chief administrator of COPA and police board members.

The panel would also be empowered to “introduce and adopt a resolution of no-confidence on the fitness of the superintendent, chief administrator and police board president.

Also, the panel would not have the final word on disputes over police policy.

Rather, the civilian representatives would “review and approve by majority vote any proposed new or amended policy” and “review and provide input” on the “police accountability system, police services and department policies and practices of significance to the public.”

Prior to a City Council vote on the city budget, the panel would “prepare and submit to the budget director a detailed and factually-supported budget submission, then review and, if warranted, recommend changes” to the Chicago Police Department’s budget.

The panel would also have the right to “direct” COPA’s chief administrator” to “investigate complaints of police misconduct consistent with COPA’s defined jurisdiction.”

It remains to be seen whether the mayor’s long-awaited plan satisfies the Council’s Black, Hispanic and Progressive caucuses.

A plan endorsed by those caucuses would ask Chicago voters in the 2022 primary to approve a binding referendum empowering an 11-member 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 no longer negotiate police contracts.

And Lightfoot and aldermen would lose their power to establish the CPD budget, ceding that power as well to the civilian commission, which would have nine elected members and two appointed by the mayor.

Even if voters reject the referendum, the commission would have the 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 said again Monday she “wears the jacket” for Chicago violence and she’s not about to “outsource” control of CPD to a civilian police oversight commission.

“Public safety is one of the most critical responsibilities of any mayor — me and anybody who will come” after her, Lightfoot said.

“The relationship between the mayor and the police superintendent is critically important. So we have a process by which the candidates will be vetted through the commission. The commission will make recommendations. But yes, because the buck stops with me, I will ultimately, as mayor ... be making that decision.”

Lightfoot said her ordinance includes a “process for creating a temporary commission, then getting to an elected commission.” And it “allows for and does not disenfranchise” undocumented Chicagoans to serve.

“Public safety is something that every resident of the city has a stake in. And we want to make sure that the undocumented community also has the ability to participate,” she said.