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Eleventh-hour compromise reached on civilian police review over Lightfoot’s objections, but mayoral ally refused to consider it

The mayor was poised to suffer another bitter political defeat after a compromise was hammered out that would give a civilian oversight panel the final say in disputes over police policy.

Chicago police officers attend a graduation and promotion ceremony in the Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier on June 15, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.
The Committee on Public Safety on Friday refused to consider an eleventh-hour compromise that would give a civilian oversight panel the final say on police policy disputes.
Scott Olson/Getty Images file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was spared a bitter political defeat Friday on the pivotal issue of civilian police oversight by the narrowest of margins.

By a 10-9 vote, the Committee on Public Safety refused to consider an eleventh-hour compromise hammered out without the mayor’s input that would give a civilian oversight panel the final say on police policy disputes.

About an hour before the vote, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) predicted the votes would be there to approve the stronger oversight ordinance over Lightfoot’s strenuous objections after proponents agreed to “split out” a binding referendum that, if passed, would give the civilian panel even broader powers.

“We know we don’t have the votes in the Public Safety Committee to pass that referendum. But we do have enough votes to pass the portions of the ordinance that do not include the referendum,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“So, we agreed this morning to remove the referendum from the ordinance being voted on today. And that should secure us more than a majority in the committee to pass this.”

But Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) refused to consider the compromise distributed to aldermen only 30 minutes earlier.

When Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) made a motion to table consideration of the new compromise, Taliaferro called for the roll-call vote that went 10-9 against considering the compromise.

“We’ve waited four years to vote on this matter. ... A majority of the City Council is on board,” said a disappointed Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), City Council champion for civilian oversight.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th)
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th)
Sun-Times file

Taliaferro said he objected to considering the compromise immediately because he “screamed from the rooftops” for supporters to “pull the referendum and you would have support.”

“No one listened” until Friday, Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro also condemned what he called the “threats, intimidation and harassment” by proponents of civilian police oversight who show up at the homes of aldermen, “plaster things in front of their doors” and put their spouses and children “in harm’s way.”

“I can’t support that type of conduct. … That’s not democracy at its best. Democracy is protesting peacefully,” Taliaferro said.

The committee then voted 9-8 against a motion to adjourn until Monday and consider the compromise then. That set the stage for aldermen to consider the mayor’s ordinance, which lacks support, and the old version of civilian review that was supplanted by the compromise.

Then Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) made another motion to adjourn. It was accepted.

Lightfoot plan for civilian police oversight 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 she offered to create to choose Chicago’s police superintendent, Lightfoot would retain that coveted power for herself and future mayors.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th).
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th)
Sun-Times file

Ramirez-Rosa championed the more extreme version of civilian oversight proposed by the Civilian Police Accountability Council before helping to forge the compromise with the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.

The new compromise gives the civilian oversight commission the final say in disputes over police policy.

The panel would also be empowered to take a vote of no-confidence in Chicago’s police superintendent that could set the stage for the top cop’s removal if the City Council agrees by a two-thirds vote, he said.

“The mayor was not part of these conversations. She had her opportunity to work with the coalition on meaningful civilian oversight. The ordinance that she introduced was not a serious proposal for civilian oversight,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“Her staff reached out to us earlier this week and put nothing on the table. All they said was, ‘Will you postpone the vote?’ The vote’s been postponed how many times? How many years? It’s time to pass this ordinance.”

Like Lightfoot, Taliaferro has argued the mayor must have the final say on police policy disputes and the fate of the police superintendent.

“It should be within the authority of the mayor to hire and fire the superintendent, the Police Board and the COPA administrator. If she’s gonna wear the hat for any good or bad that happens within the police department, she needs to be able to hire and fire the chief executive of those offices,” Taliaferro told the Sun-Times last month.

“I can’t imagine being the mayor of a municipality and you have no say-so in the direction of the police department.”

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to empower a civilian oversight panel to hire and fire the police superintendent and have the final word in disputes over police policy.

Civilian oversight was a pivotal recommendation by the Task Force on Police Accountability she co-chaired in the furor that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

After the election, Lightfoot changed her tune, just as she has on her support for an elected school board bill approved by the Illinois House this week over her strenuous objections.