Civilian police oversight off to slow start

Adam Gross, executive director of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, told City Council members that out of 14 positions in the 2022 budget, only one other person besides Gross is “hired and on staff.”

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Protesters and Chicago police officers during a march downtown Friday, May 29, 2020 over the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd.

Protesters and Chicago police officers during a march downtown in May 2020 over the death of George Floyd. A Minneapolis police officer later was convicted of murdering Floyd.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago’s fledgling civilian police oversight commission has so far filled only two of 14 staff positions — a painfully slow start to reform vital to restoring the trust between residents and police that can be pivotal to solving violent crimes, alderpersons were told Tuesday.

Testifying at City Council budget hearings, Adam Gross, executive director of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, called the commission a “startup.”

Out of 14 positions in the 2022 city budget, only one person other than Gross is “hired and on staff,” Gross said, while another staffer is at the “end of the fingerprinting process.” Another has started the vetting process. Three more are in the “late stages” of being interviewed. Two additional jobs have been posted and may be filled by year’s end, he said.

That would leave five additional vacancies going into 2023, when the commission will have nine more jobs to fill (for a total of 223 positions) and a budget of $4.3 million, including stipends and fringe benefits.

“We’re a startup. We’re going from zero to something,” Gross said.

Adam Gross (center) is executive director of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability.

Adam Gross (center) is executive director of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. He is shown here talking to the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board along with Mecole Jordan (left), a coordinator for the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, and Erik Martinez, an organizer for the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations.

Sun-Times file photo

As a Council champion for civilian police oversight, retiring Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he was alarmed by the painfully slow start.

Osterman said he’s well aware there are more than 5,000 vacancies in all of city government and that hiring takes too long.

But, he said, civilian police oversight — a fixture in Los Angeles for nearly a century —cannot succeed in Chicago without the support it needs to get off the ground.

“Other departments that are large have the luxury of having vacancies. You don’t have that luxury. … We do not have the luxury of time. When it comes to public safety in Chicago, we’re on borrowed time. We have to go back and try to fix things every single day,” Osterman said.

With a final vote on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion 2023 budget scheduled for Nov. 7, Osterman said: “We’ve got to make sure that you’re staffed up, because not only are you gonna have to do an analysis of the police budget in an informed way that requires staff. You have to be in the outreach work across the city of Chicago making those relationships with churches and schools and block clubs. That takes staff and help. You have to make sure that we get those people in those positions filled right away.”

West Side Ald. Monique Scott (24th) agreed, telling Gross: “Staffing is a huge issue that needs to be remedied quick.”

Anthony Driver, president of the interim commission, couldn’t agree more.

He said the seven interim commissioners are supposed to play an “advisory role” only. Instead, he said he’s now “functioning as a staff person” to meet a series of mandates that must be followed in the first 30 to 60 days. That includes establishing a process for filling Police Board vacancies.

It would help if there were “any resources that you all or the city could provide that’s a stop-gap measure until we get hiring up to par to help us disseminate our message to the public to help us fulfill our duties to analyze the budget,” Driver said.

“It’s a monumental task for a startup. And those resources are critically needed until we get to fill those positions,” said Driver.

Retiring Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he’s concerned about the balance of power — with three policymakers at a fully-staffed civilian oversight commission and 45 policymakers at the CPD.

“Your three staff members are not gonna be able to keep up — especially when those jobs are not filled,” Tunney said.

Retiring Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) questioned why the Office of Budget and Management is determining staffing for a civilian oversight commission that’s supposed to be independent.

“If we’re gonna start off this way, it’s a nonstarter,” Hairston said.

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) was more concerned about the nearly 14% raise Lightfoot included in her 2023 budget for Gross, lifting his salary from $130,200 to $148,140.

“Just a bit of a head-scratcher for me. We have no idea how this is gonna turn out. And we’re already offering large raises. … I don’t know how I justify it to my constituents,” Quinn said.

Gross said he had “nothing to do with” the pay raise.

The budget office set his initial salary “without a full understanding of what the work of the commission was” and has since analyzed the vast responsibilities after “looking at comparable work done by other commissions.”

“We’ve looked most of all at L.A., where I know the salaries are significantly higher,” Gross said.

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