Deal on civilian police oversight reached after weekend of negotiations in Chicago

The mayor would retain final say on police policy disputes. Reform advocates won the right to take a vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent, though the vote would be non-binding.

SHARE Deal on civilian police oversight reached after weekend of negotiations in Chicago
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown held a news conference Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at CPD headquarters to address looting that occurred overnight.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration has reached a compromise on civilian police oversight,

Sun-Times file

After negotiating through the weekend, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police reform advocates have finally reached agreement that will pave the way for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department.

The final language would empower a seven-member commission to take a vote of no-confidence in the Chicago police superintendent. The commission also could take no-confidence votes for the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and any Police Board member. Such votes would need the support of at least five of the seven members to pass.

A no-confidence vote by the commission would trigger a vote by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety within 14 days — then a full City Council vote at its next monthly meeting. If two-thirds of aldermen agree with the no-confidence vote, the chief administrator of COPA “shall be removed.”

However, no-confidence votes in either the CPD superintendent or Police Board members would not be binding on the mayor. Instead, the mayor “shall respond in writing within 14 days after adoption of the resolution, explaining the actions that the mayor will take in response.”

Even so, a no-confidence vote in the superintendent would be difficult for the mayor to ignore.

As for police policy, the commission would be empowered to “initiate a policy either by drafting a policy itself or making a written request” to the Chicago Police Department, COPA or the Police Board.

CPD, COPA or the Police Board would then have 14 days to “accept or decline. If the answer is no, there must be an explanation in writing. If recommendation is accepted, the policy must be drafted within 60 days.

“If the Department, COPA or the Police Board does not respond, declines the request or accepts the request, but fails to draft a policy within sixty calendar days or any extension thereto, the commission may take its request to the mayor, who shall review the parties’ positions and either direct the superintendent, chief administrator or police board president to take appropriate action or explain why in writing the mayor has concluded that no action is warranted,” the ordinance states.

Meeting Tuesday evening

The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday to ratify the agreement. That will be followed by a full City Council vote on Wednesday.

Now that there is an agreement, there should be no problem attracting the 34 votes needed to approve any ordinance involving the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. The ordinance does just that by electing three-member councils in each of Chicago’s 22 police districts.

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.

That’s why, when Lightfoot finally got around delivering her own 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, she pulled it to avoid defeat, setting the stage for the latest round of negotiations.

In the compromise, both sides can claim victory.

The mayor appears to have won by retaining the final say on police policy disputes. But police reform advocates won the right to take a vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent that Lightfoot wanted to avoid, even though she would not be bound by it.

“After a weekend of productive negotiations, we are pleased to announce that the parties have reached an agreement on a proposed substitute ordinance for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and the Police Board,” Lightfoot and the Empowering Communities for Public Safety Coalition were quoted as saying in a joint statement.

“If passed, this ordinance would bring an historic, transformative and balanced approach to civilian oversight. The Committee on Public Safety is expected to take up the substitute ordinance on Tuesday and we strongly urge the members of City Council to vote to approve this landmark legislation.”

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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