City Council’s Committee on Public Safety portrayed as do-nothing panel

The Chicago Justice Project released a 20-year study portraying the committee as anemic over the last 20 years in hopes of pressuring the committee to approve four stalled police accountability ordinances.

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Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

Chicago City Hall.

Sun-Times file

The Chicago Justice Project on Tuesday turned up the heat on the City Council to approve four stalled police accountability ordinances by portraying its Committee on Public Safety as anemic over the last 20 years.

Between 2000 and 2020, the Police Committee-turned-Committee on Public Safety held 186 meetings and considered 489 agenda items, according to a Justice Project review. Of the agenda items considered, 80% were unrelated to police oversight. Only 15% had anything to do with the Chicago Police Department, the study showed.

Less than 5% of committee action related to the alphabet soup of police accountability agencies: CPD’s now-defunct Office of Professional Standards, the Independent Police Review Authority and its replacement, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Instead of flexing its legislative muscle to rein in CPD and strengthen police accountability, the committee has spent much of its time donating used police and fire equipment and “rubber-stamping” mayoral appointees, the study showed.

Tracy Siska, executive director of the Justice Project, said the 20-year record is a clarion call for aldermen to “do their jobs.”

“We have experienced misconduct and abuse for decades in Chicago with no end. The Laquan McDonald murder didn’t happen in 1980. It happened in 2014. Anthony Alvarez just happened. There’s a long line of misconduct and abuse for a hundred years that the City Council has turned their back on and shirked their responsibility for,” Siska said.

“Don’t ask the Police Department to make changes. Demand them. They’re the legislators. They set the rules. It’s time to start doing it … and restrain policing for things they don’t want to happen.”

Siska is specifically demanding approval of four stalled ordinances:

• Sweeping search warrant reforms championed by Black female aldermen aimed at preventing a repeat of the botched raid on the wrong home that forced Anjanette Young to stand naked before male police officers.

• A plan for civilian police oversight endorsed by the Council’s Black, Hispanic and Progressive caucuses. It 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. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has introduced her own plan that retains those powers for the mayor.

• Creating a “robust” database of misconduct complaints filed against Chicago Police officers, not the limited database dating no further back than 2000, as Lightfoot has offered.

• A “Police Settlement Transparency Accountability” ordinance giving aldermen the facts before they’re asking to sign off on settlements tied to allegations of police misconduct and mandate that the Committee on Public Safety meet monthly to consider those settlements and twice a year to focus on police accountability.

The Anjanette Young ordinance “limiting how and when they can do no-knock or knock-warrants and who they can point guns at” is a perfect place to start, Siska said.

“No one is advocating that the City Council tell them how many police to have assigned to what districts. … This is saying the citizens of Chicago and their representatives want policing to be restrained in this way,” he said.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former CPD officer, bristled at the suggestion he presides over a do-nothing committee.

“We are not an oversight body. We’re a legislative body. Yes, we create ordinances that affect our police department and fire department. But we should not be looked at as one of oversight. Rather, one of legislation,” the chairman said.

“I don’t think you should ever cave in to any type of political pressure to get something done. When you get something done, it should be thought out, negotiated and then passed. For their assessment to be ‘you rush ordinances and you rush legislation to vote,’ I think, is a poor assessment by them.”

Taliaferro said he has scheduled a June 18 meeting to allow aldermen to choose between Lightfoot’s watered-down version of civilian police oversight and a stronger version endorsed by the Council’s three most powerful caucuses.

He wouldn’t guess which way that vote would go.

Asked why he has yet to schedule the hearing he promised on the Anjanette Young ordinance, Taliaferro argued the legislation championed by African-American women in the Council goes too far.

“It’s asking to do something we have not done in the past. That is, codify police procedures. We’ve never done that. There are no police procedures that are a part of our city ordinances,” he said.

“The correct process to do that is ... through changing police policies and procedures in their general orders.”

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