Lightfoot appoints 7-member interim police oversight commission

The interim commission will have a lot of power. It will be expected to fill several vacancies on the Police Board and will review the Chicago Police Department’s budget before a City Council vote on the mayor’s 2023 budget.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses gun violence prevention efforts in Chicago during a news conference at City Hall in the Loop, Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 23, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday appointed the seven-member commission charged with taking the first step toward delivering civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department that’s pivotal to restoring shattered trust between residents and police.

The Rev. Dr. Beth Brown, Anthony Driver, Oswaldo Gomez, Yvette Loizon, Cliff Nellis, Remel Terry and Isaac Troncoso will serve only until district council members are elected on Feb. 28 and recommend 14 names from which the mayor will choose a permanent, seven-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability.

But the interim commission will have a lot of power between now and then.

The landmark ordinance approved by the City Council in July 2021 empowers this interim commission to conduct a nationwide search for Chicago’s next police superintendent if Police Supt. David Brown resigns or is fired as all of the Lightfoot’s challengers have promised to do.

More immediately, the interim commission will be charged with filling several vacancies on the Police Board and with reviewing and commenting on the Chicago Police Department’s budget before a City Council vote on the mayor’s 2023 budget.

The interim commission must establish annual goals for Police Department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of misconduct by police officers. It also will set police policy not covered by the consent decree and measure progress toward fulfilling those goals.

The interim commission is also authorized to take a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent and Police Board members that would trigger a similar vote by the City Council after public hearings. Although the ultimate decision would still rest with the mayor, back-to-back no-confidence votes in the superintendent would create enormous political pressure that would be difficult for the mayor to ignore. And even if she does, she would need to publicly explain why.

During a City Hall news conference to announce the appointments, Lightfoot warned her seven nominees that they have been “handed an important trust...that can easily go sideways” if they don’t “earn it every single day.”

“You have the absolute ability to start your own process of restoring legitimacy to the police oversight system. It is a trust that can easily be lost if each of you don’t step up. This can’t be about individual agendas. This has got to be about the mission...to make sure that our residents’ voices are at the table, that they are heard,” the mayor said.

“The most important steps that we can take in bringing...lasting peace and safety to our communities—is by getting the community involved and engaged and feeling like...their voices are no longer gonna be ignored. That they have a role in shaping what community safety looks like. Not just policing.”

Beth Brown serves as pastor of the Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. Driver is a public affairs strategist who previously worked as a political and legislative coordinator for SEIU Healthcare. Gomez is a graduate student at the University of Chicago who served as campaign coordinator at the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability and the Empowering Communities Public Safety campaign that spearheaded the drive toward civilian police oversight.

Loizon is an attorney and a partner at the Clifford Law Offices, one of Chicago’s most prominent personal injury law firms. Nellis is the founder and executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center.

Terry chairs the political action committee at the NAACP’s West Side branch and once served as an adviser to Lightfoot’s transition team. Troncoso is a former account manager at Google who now serves as a top aide to the CEO of CityBase, a firm that describes itself as creating “government and utility technology that modernized the way people find, apply and pay for services.”

Notably absent from the list of mayoral appointees is retired Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), who served as City Council floor leader under former Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley.

O’Connor was among 14 potential nominees vetted and recommended by City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said Lightfoot “made the right choice by steering clear of O’Connor.”

“The civilian commission was really about empowering laypeople — people who are your neighbor — to have a role in oversight of the Chicago Police Department. And whether you love O’Connor or you dislike him, the truth is that he has been a mainstay of Chicago machine politics for decades,” said Ramirez-Rosa, a driving force behind civilian police oversight.

“His role in the Emanuel administration, the cover-up of the murder of Laquan McDonald — all of those are things that would have tarnished the interim commission and been a potential political liability for the mayor had she appointed him.”

O’Connor could not be reached for comment.

Ramirez-Rosa said what he likes about the mayor’s nominees is their diversity. He also likes the fact that four of the seven mayoral nominees have been “involved in the work to bring about civilian oversight.”

“That means they’re gonna take their responsibilities very seriously and understand the importance of the commission and work to get it right,” the alderperson said.

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

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to empower a civilian oversight board to hire and fire the police superintendent and be the final arbiter in disputes over police policy and the department’s budget. She promised to deliver civilian oversight within the first 100 days of her administration.

What she managed to deliver — 26 months into her four-year term — fell far short of that promise.

The mayor was supposed to appoint the interim commission by Jan. 1. She delayed her selections, arguing that the first meaningful police oversight since the Police Board was created during the 1970s was a “very big deal” and she was determined to get it right.

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