When Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) was appointed chair of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, he announced he would hold a public hearing on the two ordinances that would give residents a greater say in police accountability.

For the past few years, the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) and the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (CAARPR) have been pushing for ordinances to 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. 

The key difference is that, while the former gives the aldermen, the mayor and some of the existing agencies some role in the process, the later puts superintendent hiring, investigation of police misconduct, and budget and policy approval entirely in the civilian council’s hands. 

A hearing was originally supposed to be held on July 31. But it was delayed several times. On Nov. 19, GAPA held a press conference in front of the Mayor’s Office, at 121 N. LaSalle St., to push the city to approve their ordinance. And while the alliance’s leadership remains optimistic, so far that hasn’t moved the needle.

Both ordinances have been on the docket for years, but they never made it past committee stage. Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), who served as the Committee on Public Safety chair before Taliaferro, held three hearings in May 2018 to get public input on four potential oversight ordinances, including these two. 

Both the GAPA ordinance and CAARPR ordinance (also known as “CPAC ordinance”) were reintroduced in mid-June and late May, respectively. The GAPA ordinance currently has 29 sponsors, including West Side aldermen Michael Scott (24th), Walter Burnett (27th), Jason Ervin (28th) and Emma Mitts (37th). Taliaferro, who sponsored it in 2018, isn’t on the list. The CPAC ordinance currently has 13 sponsors, with Mitts its only West Side sponsor. 

The GAPA ordinance would create three-member district councils in each police district to work with the officers on crime prevention, community policing and restorative justice policies. Each member would be elected by district residents for a two-year term. The ordinance would also established the nine-member Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. While the 2018 version of the ordinance had them directly elected by Chicago voters, the latest version calls for them to be appointed by the Commission Nominating Committee. Each district council would choose one member to be part of the committee. Together, they would look at applicants and submit their recommendations to the mayor, who can accept or reject them. The city council would have final approval of whoever the mayor picks.

As before, the commission would select candidates for police superintendent and recommend a superintendent removal, with the city council getting the final say in both cases. The commission would play a similar role in hiring and firing the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the appointment of Chicago Police Board members, as well as annual performance reviews for all three. It would also be able to review, approve and propose CPD and COPA policies, unless a consent decree doesn’t allow it. 

In a recent interview with this newspaper, Desmon Yancy, GAPA’s community coordinator, said having civilian councils made up of local residents would go a long way toward making police officers more accountable and improving police/community relations. 

“We talk about rebuilding trust when, in communities like Austin, people would say they never trusted the police,” he said. “[We need] to make sure people’s voices are heard to transform the CPD, which has been left to their own devices for generations.”

One of the big reasons why they wanted the GAPA ordinance passed this year, Yancy said, is that LCS elections are coming up on April 22. The candidate-filing deadline is on March 5, and GAPA wanted to give council candidates, many of whom probably never ran for office before, time to establish themselves and give voters a chance to get to know them. 

In October, Taliaferro told this newspaper that he planned to hold a hearing on the GAPA ordinance in November. But neither of the two meetings held last month touched on the issue. While the public safety committee was scheduled to meet on Dec. 10, the meeting was canceled, and the meeting agenda wasn’t posted beforehand. Given that the final city council meeting of the year is scheduled for Dec. 18, even if Taliaferro schedules another meeting later this month, there may not be time to get the GAPA ordinance before the full council until next year. 

Yancy acknowledged that GAPA likely wouldn’t pass this year but remained optimistic about its long-term future.

“We’ve been in contact with the Mayor’s Office,” he said. “We don’t have the clarity we’d like in terms of the timeline, but we’re fighting for the timeline that will allow for important steps in this ordnance to happen in order for the commission to be effective.”

Yancy also mentioned that Taliaferro has been neutral on the ordinance since becoming chair of the Committee on Public Safety, but, given the alderman’s past record, he felt he would ultimately support the ordinance’s passage.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...