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Civilian Police Oversight Efforts Stall Again, But Alderman Say Compromise With Mayor Lori Lightfoot Is 'Extremely Close'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After years of at times heated debate over how to move forward with civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, aldermen on Friday again put off a vote on two competing proposals, but said they're "closer than we've ever been" to agreeing on a compromise that would have the support of both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a majority of the City Council.

The City Council Public Safety Committee on Friday had been expected to vote on two competing civilian police oversight ordinances - one backed by a coalition of aldermen and grassroots organizations, and another backed by the mayor - but instead Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), one of the chief sponsors of the grassroots plan, said the two sides are now working on a deal that could satisfy both sides.

"We are working tirelessly at getting this done, and I believe that we are extremely close," Sawyer said.

Lightfoot's office also confirmed a compromise is in the works.

"I am firmly committed to passing a comprehensive, effective, and workable form of civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department and its relevant accountability agencies. Recently, there has been significant progress made between relevant stakeholders and I look forward to continuing the conversation over the weekend in an effort to reach consensus on a path forward," the mayor said in a prepared statement.

Sawyer said sponsors of the grassroots plan have been meeting with the Lightfoot administration this week to hammer out a compromise, and will be working through the weekend to try to finalize a deal.

"This potential compromise is being done in conjunction with both our alliance partners … and with the administration working together, and we're going to be working through the weekend to get what we will believe to be still the most comprehensive ordinance in the United States of America, as it relates to police oversight, and we're asking your indulgence, and the committee's indulgence in letting us pursue this work, so that we can have something for you available – for the committee and for the council as a whole – that we feel will be acceptable to everyone that's interested in true police civilian oversight," he told members of the Public Safety Committee.

The announcement of a potential compromise comes one month after the most recent version of the grassroots proposal was held up in committee.

The grassroots plan would call for a voter referendum to empower a civilian oversight board to hire and fire the police superintendent, establish CPD policy, set the department's budget, and negotiate contracts with police unions. Sponsors tried to remove that provision from their proposal last month, in an effort to win enough support for full City Council passage, but were blocked from doing so amid complaints their change came at the last minute.

Without that referendum, their revised proposal would still allow a civilian police oversight board to hire and fire the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, set CPD policy, and cast a no-confidence vote in the police superintendent. However, the City Council would retain the power to set the department's budget, and the mayor's office would keep the authority to negotiate contracts with police unions.

Lightfoot's proposal would give the civilian police oversight board less power. While the commission would be able to weigh in on setting policy for the Chicago Police Department, COPA, and the Police Board, the mayor would still have the final say. Like the grassroots civilian oversight plan, the mayor's proposal also would allow the commission to take a no-confidence vote against the superintendent, the head of COPA, or Police Board members. Such a vote would prompt a vote by the City Council on whether to recommend the superintendent, COPA administrator, or Police Board members be fired; but the mayor would still have the final say.

Sawyer and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), a co-sponsor of the grassroots proposal, said the mayor's office agreed to use the grassroots proposal as the basis for the compromise, while negotiating over a few items where the two plans differ.

"We're closer than we've ever been before, but there are still a lot of ground to cover. I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to cover that ground over the weekend, and have a compromise that we can all support on Tuesday, but I just want to note that's a big 'if,'" Ramirez-Rosa said. "We're going to be working around the clock, and this is what we owe to the people of the city of Chicago, because we need meaningful and robust civilian oversight and police reform."

Sawyer said aldermen have already been provided with a first draft of the compromise plan, which he estimated is 80% to 85% complete.

"What you will be looking at is the template, or the meat of the ordinance, and what we'll be doing over the weekend is negotiating a few portions of that ordinance," he said.

Sawyer said the goal is to have a final compromise for aldermen to review by Monday morning. The Public Safety Committee is scheduled to reconvene at 5 p.m. on Tuesday to take up whatever compromise might be reached, or else to potentially vote on the competing proposals already on the table. He said supporters want a final vote by the full City Council at its next meeting on Wednesday.

Some aldermen, however, were clearly frustrated with another delay in the push for civilian oversight of CPD.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), one of the mayor's harshest critics on the City Council, said he has yet to see the draft of the compromise, and blasted the plan to hold a committee vote on the plan less than a day before a full City Council vote.

"We're going to have a discussion on probably the most significant civilian oversight in the city's history at 5 in the afternoon the day before we're supposed to pass it, seems to me ridiculous. Let me just say that, flat out, regardless of what side you're on. That is the dumbest thing that I've ever heard, personally," he said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), likewise a vocal critic of the mayor, raised doubts about a potential deal.

"We're working on the compromise to the compromise to the other compromise that we had, is that what we're saying?" he said.

Beale said people in Chicago are frustrated with "crime numbers going through the roof" and want the city to finally get something done on a civilian police oversight plan.

"The community is looking for some leadership and some guidance, and they're looking for some results, and so we need to get some results to the people as soon as possible, because these numbers are not going to change unless we do something drastic," he said.

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