Residents debate police oversight ordinances

During May 29, residents argue merits of two ideas for civilian oversight

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The overwhelming consensus at the May 29 Chicago City Council Committee on Public Safety hearing was that the Chicago Police Department should have more oversight. Most residents who spoke, however, had different ideas about what that oversight should look like. 

The May 29 hearing, held at Westinghouse College Prep, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd., attracted between 80 to 90 residents and was one of three hearings held throughout the City of Chicago to discuss four different police reform ordinances that the committee is currently considering. The May 29 hearing was the only one held on the West Side. 

Everyone who spoke at the hearing supported either the ordinance advanced by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) (referred to as "GAPA ordinance") or the ordinance advanced by Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (CAARPR) (also called the "CPAC ordinance"). 

Both ordinances would create an elected civilian council that would have some degree of oversight over CPD practices, discipline issues and hiring and firing of the police superintendent. A main difference is that the second ordinance has greater authority over most aspects of police operations. 

Supporters of the GAPA ordinance argued that their proposal is the only true grassroots proposal that emerged after two years of collecting input. Supporters of the CPAC ordinance argued that theirs is the only ordinance that gives civilians full control over the police. As of June 1, it is not clear when the committee will vote on any of the four ordinances, since no further meetings have been officially scheduled. 

The Grassroots Alliance is a coalition of community groups across Chicago, including Austin's Westside Health Authority. According to its website, the alliance came together in the summer of 2016 in response to a recommendation by the Police Accountability Task Force that a civilian-run Community Safety Oversight Board be created to ensure the community has a say in what the police department looks like. The Grassroots Alliance organizers spent the next two years getting feedback from residents all over Chicago about the details of that oversight. 

The GAPA ordinance calls for the creation of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which would made up of seven members elected for four-year terms for no more than 12 years in total. The commission would have a role in selecting, evaluating and even terminating, the police superintendent. 

The GAPA ordinance would also create elected civilian three-member district councils, which would be established in every police district in order to build connections between the police and the community. 

The CPAC ordinance would create the Civilian Police Accountability Council to take over the functions of both the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Police Board. It would include 22 members, one from each police district, with their vote proportionate to the district's population. They would be elected to four-year terms during regular Local School Council elections.

Unlike the GAPA ordinance, the CPAC ordinance would give the council the sole authority to hire the superintendent, but the ordinance doesn't mention anything about a superintendent's termination. In addition to all the powers currently in the hands of COPA and the Police Board, CPAC would have the authority to review and approve the police department's budget; discipline and fire police officers, and, if necessary, bring them to trial; and negotiate and approve police union contracts. 

The GAPA ordinance was introduced by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), the current chair of the Chicago City Council's Black Caucus. It currently has 17 additional sponsors, including Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th). The CPAC ordinance was introduced by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and currently has seven additional sponsors, including Ald. Emma Mitts (37th). 

All three aforementioned West Side aldermen attended the May 29 hearing, along with at least four other wards. 

Nicole Jordan, a GAPA coordinator, argued that her group's ordinance gives the community the voice it's been lacking.

"[CPD] policies are written outside the community and not necessarily with the community voice or input," she said. "And we have lot of unmitigated consequences because of it. We also understand that the community members are [affected by] all policies and procedures that are put forth, because they are the ones being policed." 

Fr. Larry Dowling, pastor of North Lawndale's St. Agatha's Parish, was one of the several faith leaders who spoke in support of the GAPA ordinance. 

"[A system] that's so dysfunctional, so messed up, so abusive — to think that it could be healed from within is ridiculous," he said. "We need to support GPACA, we need to support accountability that comes from [the community], which is elected in number of different ways." 

Frank Chapman, a Chicago Alliance Against Racism field organizer, said that while CPAC ordinance supporters "were not here in debate with GAPA," they believed that the GAPA ordinance doesn't go far enough and that the CPAC ordinance is the only ordinance that would truly give Chicagoans the power to change the police department. 

"[The CPAC ordinance] is not about restoring trust, CPAC is not about just training and [body] cameras," he said. 

Brenetta Howell Barrett, a longtime West Side political activist, and a member of the Chicago Alliance Against Racism's CPAC Steering Committee, reinforced Chapman's argument, saying that CPAC is the most democratic, representative option on the table. 

"With CPAC, it is a vote that counts, because that is [the only] body representing a single police district in each seat," she said.

While most speakers stuck to their positions, with a few CPAC supporters taking shots at the GAPA ordinance, some, like Keith Kelley, a youth worker from Garfield Park, attempted to find a middle ground. 

"I would actually prefer a hybrid of GAPA and CPAC, because they both have merits," he said.

Antonio "Tonii" Magitt, of Washington Park, argued that the two sides should work together to get something passed, since having some civilian oversight body is better than the current situation.

Xavier Love, a West Side resident, said that whatever oversight arrangement is voted on, police misconduct needs to be addressed — not just for the sake of civilians, but for the sake of officers who are honestly trying to do the right thing.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com     

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