City Council showdown on civilian police oversight put off — again

This time the delay was triggered by Lori Lightfoot’s decision to propose a revised civilian oversight ordinance that Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said comes “extremely close” to the compromise endorsed by the Black, Hispanic and Progressive caucuses.

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Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) speaks about the creating change in the policing of communities to organizers and supporters near during a protest at the Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph St to demand city council pass a community proposed ordinance, Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th)

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Police reform advocates have waited 26 months for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deliver on her promise to empower a civilian oversight board to fire Chicago’s police superintendent and have the final say on police spending and policy.

They’ll just have to wait a few days longer.

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety made certain of it on Friday by putting off a showdown vote on the volatile issue — again — until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

This time the delay was triggered by Lightfoot’s decision to propose a revised civilian oversight ordinance that Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said comes “extremely close” to the compromise endorsed by the Black, Hispanic and Progressive caucuses.

Negotiations will continue through the weekend in hopes of reaching a compromise capable of attracting the 34 votes needed to approve any ordinance involving the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

“It’s difficult to pass something over the objections of a sitting mayor. … She made a very, very serious proposal. ... It’s the closest this mayor has ever been to an ordinance that our coalition would like to see,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) told his colleagues that he hopes to deliver “the most comprehensive ordinance in the United States” after a few more days of bargaining.

“We are extremely close. ... We are probably about 80, 85% there. ... We just ask for a couple more days to get this nailed down,” Sawyer said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), one of Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critics, had his doubts. He referred to the latest version of civilian oversight as “a compromise to the compromise to the compromise.”

“Communities are really frustrated with the crime numbers going through the roof. ... Arrests are down drastically from last year. ... We need to get some results to the people as soon as possible because these numbers are not gonna change unless we do something drastic,” Beale said.

Sawyer responded, “We share that commitment and frustration. That’s why we’re wanting to do this before we adjourn for the summer. We want this done by Wednesday at the full City Council meeting.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), another outspoken mayoral critic, called the decision to meet again late Tuesday an insult.

“We’re gonna have a discussion on, probably the most significant civilian oversight in the city’s history at 5 in the afternoon the day we’re supposed to pass it. To me, [that] seems ridiculous — regardless of what side you’re on. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Lopez said.

Ramirez-Rosa refused to reveal specifics of the mayor’s offer but said it is “extremely, extremely similar” to the version embraced by the three caucuses, particularly on the performance of the police superintendent.

That version empowers the 11-member civilian oversight commission to find there is “just cause” to take a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent and proceed with that vote after giving the top cop 30 days to respond.

If the commission approves, the City Council would vote on whether to recommend that the superintendent be fired. The mayor would not be bound by that vote, but the political pressure to make a change would be tough to ignore.

Police reform advocates and the mayor’s office are “still a little further apart” on the issue of how to resolve police policy disputes, Ramirez-Rosa said.

But sources said the final version is almost certain to empower the civilian oversight commission to resolve disputes over police policy that could only be overruled by a two-thirds City Council vote.

Lightfoot has argued repeatedly that she “wears the jacket” for Chicago violence and she’s not about to “outsource” control over CPD to a civilian police oversight commission.

When Lightfoot finally delivered her version of civilian oversight, she retained for herself and future mayors the power to hire and fire the superintendent and have the final say in disputes over police policy.

But Lightfoot’s ordinance attracted such tepid support that she pulled it, setting the stage for the latest round of negotiations.

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

The mayor has been under heavy political pressure to deliver civilian oversight, particularly after changing her tune on an elected school board bill approved by the Illinois General Assembly over her strenuous objections.

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