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City Council Approves Plan For New Civilian Panel To Oversee CPD; Critics Say 'Police Are Going To Lose'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved the creation of a new civilian panel to oversee the Chicago Police Department, a measure supporters said would be the strongest of its kind in the country.

Aldermen voted 36-13 to create a new seven-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, the result of months of on-and-off negotiations between Mayor Lori Lightfoot, aldermen, and a coalition of grassroots police reform groups.

The panel would give citizens in Chicago more input into setting policies for the Chicago Police Department, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and the Chicago Police Board. However, the mayor would retain her power to hire and fire the police superintendent, and could veto policy mandates approved by the new civilian oversight commission, although the City Council could override her veto by a two-thirds vote.

The measure is the result of a compromise reached over the weekend, after both Lightfoot and grassroots groups pushing competing proposals had difficulty getting the necessary votes to pass a civilian police oversight plan.

To reach that compromise, the mayor agreed to give the oversight panel more say in setting CPD policy than she originally wanted, while grassroots activists gave up their push to empower the commission to fire the police superintendent.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) praised the compromise, which came years after he and other aldermen began pushing for civilian oversight of CPD. He said it was vital to finally set up a civilian oversight agency with representatives elected by citizens, and with the authority to set the policies that police officers who serve the public must follow.

"Democracy is messy. It's messy for a reason, because we want and we desire the average person to be involved in all levels of what we do," he said. "We have to get the community involved. With this ordinance, we believe this takes a strong step with reengaging, resetting our relationships between the community and the police."

Lightfoot, who had campaigned on a promise to deliver civilian oversight of CPD in her first 100 days in office, said aldermen on both sides of the debate worked hard to provide thoughtful input and to represent their constituents.

She called the debate over the civilian police oversight plan "one for the ages."

The mayor said it's important to have community involvement in deciding CPD policy in order to help the department better protect the residents the serve.

"The vast majority of our police officers come on the job for the right reasons, and stay on the job for the right reasons, because they are committed public servants and they love this city," she said. "The police are not our enemy, they're our neighbors, they're our friends, and they have families that they want to go home to every single day. And, yes, I believe we need civilian oversight."

Public Safety Committee Chairman Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said the ordinance would make Chicago a better city.

"We are a world-class city, but not everyone sees us that way. If you look across the country, they are saying that we are one of the worst cities, and 'Don't visit Chicago.' They've looked at our Police Department with disdain, and we have to change that. We have an opportunity to change that, and we have to do that. That's our obligation. That's our responsibility," he said.

Before Wednesday's vote, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, who is facing possible firing by the Chicago Police Board over multiple misconduct charges, accused aldermen of "turning the keys over to the criminals" by backing the new civilian police oversight board.

"I'm a firm believer there is way more oversight for the Police Department than needs to be," he said. "My question is why is the oversight always about the Police Department, and turning over now control to a lot of the squeaky wheels who made this city into anarchy last summer, and now entertaining the idea that you want to give them the ability to dictate police policy going forward is absolutely absurd and dangerous and reckless."

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) began Wednesday's debate by saying the measure the City Council has agreed to is not as strong as he would have liked, but is "a strong, transformative, and robust ordinance, because this is a balanced ordinance."

"It took a village to get us here today," he added. "Sometimes we were at odds, but we came together, because we knew that our city had to get something right, because we knew that our city had to take action to ensure that people in every single community feel safe."

Ramirez-Rosa said activists have been pushing for decades to have community oversight of the police, in response to a pattern of misconduct within CPD, a push he said was renewed in the wake of the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke.

He said the ordinance is meant to give civilians a real voice at the table in setting CPD policy, in nominating the police superintendent, and to cast a vote of no confidence in the superintendent if warranted.

But some critics have said there is already enough oversight of the Chicago Police Department.

"We don't need police reform, we need family reform. Families need to start taking ownership and watching over their children, protecting their communities. We can't be blaming the police for everything," Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said.

While acknowledging opponents didn't have the votes to block the ordinance, Sposato said, "You're going to win, we're going to lose. The police are going to lose, and the city is going to lose."

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said aldermen should instead be focused on accountability for every community in the city, in the face of more than 6,700 shootings over the past 18 months.

"I hope that this new police oversight acronym works to the best of its ability. I'm praying that you get to that street code of harass or kill, or I should say murder, anybody that wants to give information to the police, because that's the code. That's the code we should be going after," he said.

Napolitano claimed, rather than getting more people to cooperate with police officers, the measure would only make officers second guess themselves on the job, for fear an oversight panel will fire them for their actions.

"The job has been demonized. This new committee, this 12th layer of police oversight is going to make every potential wannabe police officer think about going in a different direction," he said.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) pushed back on that suggestion, calling the argument fewer people will want to become police officers with the new civilian oversight panel in place "completely misguided." He said officers who are doing their jobs professionally should have nothing to worry about from additional oversight.

Maldonado also said, regardless of how much oversight already exists over CPD, there is still mistrust of the police in Black and Brown neighborhoods, because the current oversight system isn't working.

"I have heard from some of my constituents that when they call the police for calls of service, they are refusing to come to the site unless there's been a shooting. Is that the way that we're supposed to feel protected?" he said. "Are police officers now saying, 'Sorry, if there is nobody shot on the street, we're not going out?' That is what's happening right now in my community, like I presume in many communities of color," "Is that right? Is that what some of my colleagues want to protect? I think that's wrong."

Lightfoot said having an independent civilian oversight panel that has a say in setting CPD policy is an important step in building trust between the community and the police.

"There can be no legitimacy if the people of this city do not trust the police, and the police will never be effective in fulfilling their sacred oath to protect and serve if they are not trusted by the community and viewed with suspicion," she said.

The ordinance would establish a new seven-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. It would also set up elected three-member councils in each of the city's 22 police districts, who would advise the commission and nominate its members.

The seven-member commission would be empowered to set policies for CPD, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and the Chicago Police Board.

However, the mayor would be able to veto policies established by the commission, which could only be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the City Council.

The commission also would have the authority to hire the head of COPA, subject to City Council approval; and to take a vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent or members of the Police Board, requiring a two-thirds majority from the commission.

If the commission were to approve a no-confidence vote against the superintendent or police board member, the City Council would hold a vote on whether to recommend to the mayor that they be fired – a recommendation requiring a two-thirds vote from aldermen. However, the final decision would still be up to the mayor, who would only be required to explain the decision in writing within 14 days of the council's vote.

In the future, when there is a vacancy for police superintendent, the commission would conduct a nationwide search for candidates, and present the mayor with a list of three finalists to choose from, essentially taking over the nomination process now in the hands of the Police Board.

While the commission would not have the direct authority to fire the head of the COPA, members could also hold a no-confidence vote for the agency's chief administrator, prompting a City Council vote on whether to remove the chief administrator by a two-thirds vote.

If the civilian oversight plan is approved by the full City Council, an interim commission would be set up by next year, until a permanent board could be established in 2023.

The City Council Rules Committee would nominate 14 people for the commissioner seats, and the mayor would then appoint seven members to the interim commission – at least two each from the North, South, and West Sides.

In 2023, during the same election for mayor and City Council, voters would choose three members for each of 22 district councils in the Chicago Police Department's 22 districts. Those district council members would then nominate candidates for the Community Commission for Public Safety, and the mayor would appoint commission members from among the nominees, subject to City Council approval.

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