The stage was set for a bruising battle about civilian police oversight after a mayoral ally on Wednesday introduced two rival plans that neuter a proposal by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability crafted after 18 months of public hearings.
Gone from the rival plans, championed by the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, are the all-important power to fire the police superintendent, establish police policy, choose the police board and head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and fire the police board president and the COPA chief.
Also missing was subpoena power and any mention of it taking a two-thirds vote of the City Council to reverse a firing of the police superintendent ordered by the civilian oversight commission.
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot has warned that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will face a furious political backlash if he refuses to endorse a civilian oversight proposal initiated by the Task Force on Police Accountability she co-chaired or tries to stall a City Council vote on the proposal until after the 2019 mayoral election.
On Wednesday, Lightfoot accused the mayor of blindsiding GAPA and betraying the promise he made to deliver meaningful civilian oversight.
“Without any consultation or warning, the mayor has now caused two proposals to be entered into City Council intended to completely undercut the groundswell of community support for the GAPA proposal,” Lightfoot said.
“He’s created a very stark contrast between the status quo and real change and reform. The battle lines are drawn. … It gives the citizens of Chicago the opportunity to determine whether they want to maintain the status quo or move forward in a different direction that gives the community an opportunity to exercise oversight over one of the most important institutions in Chicago.”
GAPA coordinator Mecole Jordan was even more outraged. One day after meeting with Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th), Jordan accused Reboyras of stripping out “all the powers” from the GAPA plan.
“This is a slap in the face. … We need to be able to have a real voice and real accountability. Without power, there is no accountability,” Jordan said.
“It is past time for the community to have a very real voice in what is happening in our lives every single day,” Jordan said. “This is business as usual — the community not being brought to the table in a very real way with real power to lend voice to how we are policed as a community. It cannot continue. This is how we have gotten to this place.”
Reboyras countered that he introduced the rival plans modeled after police oversight in Seattle and Los Angeles to set the stage for a political compromise.
“They did not do anything wrong. It’s just that I don’t think their version will pass City Council,” Reboyras said.
“They can subpoena records … so we’ve got to fire the Law Department. The fact that they can hire and fire the police superintendent as well as COPA and police board members. We have very little input as City Council members. We need to come up with a two-thirds vote to overturn anything — and we don’t have a two-thirds vote here in Council. … You might as well do away with City Council members. The people vote for us.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council Black Caucus, introduced the GAPA proposal, setting the stage for the legislative showdown.
Sawyer said he’s neither surprised nor upset about the fact that there are now three proposals. It’s prelude to political compromise.
“I want to make sure we have a vigorous conversation about it. We’ll bring it to the community. We’ll bring it to the Council for a vote. And let’s see what happens. This is what democracy is about. I think it’s great. Maybe neither one of these will pass, either,” Sawyer said.
Emanuel has signaled a go-slow approach by arguing that the civilian oversight he promised two years ago but failed to deliver must be “complementary — not contradictory” to the city’s “public safety goals.”
On Wednesday, the mayor tried to remain above the fray.
“The Council is gonna be engaged in this process. There’s gonna be hearings, which is what they should do. My main thing today was … to put forward the recommendation of Ms. [Sydney] Roberts to head COPA,” Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times in a telephone interview.
“And whether it’s body cameras, an invigorated COPA, new training associated with mental health, de-escalation — on any reform, we’re not gonna let grass grow under our feet. And the City Council is gonna have a robust process as it relates to the recommendations.”