Civilian police review will finally pass City Council in February or March, alderman says

A long-stalled ordinance paving the way for civilian police oversight will pass the City Council in February or March — before Mayor Lori Lightfoot chooses a permanent replacement for fired CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson, an influential alderman predicted Thursday.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said negotiators for the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability and the mayor’s office are closing in on an agreement that includes at least a partially-elected board with policy-making authority shared with the Chicago Police Department.

“I see movement on this. I’m hopeful that we’ll bring in February or March a final version that can be voted on by this committee,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago Police officer.

Taliaferro spoke Thursday after the latest in a seemingly-endless string of “subject matter hearings” on the vexing issue of civilian police review.

Aldermen were told the Los Angeles Police Department has a five-member police commission made up solely of mayoral appointees.

Taliaferro said that won’t work in Chicago to restore trust between citizens and police in the black community shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“Chicago right now is asking for an elected commission — or some hybrid thereof. I would support an elected commission or appointments by the mayor, along with elected. But we have to figure out a way to bring that trust back,” Taliaferro said.

A fully-appointed board “I don’t think is gonna restore the trust. ... We have a police board that’s appointed. We have an IG appointed by the mayor. We have COPA with a chief administrator appointed by the mayor. ... To have that [elected] civilian aspect of it is very important.”

The policy-making piece is also pivotal.

Arif Alikhan, former director of constitutional policing for the Los Angeles Police Department, told aldermen the Board of Police Commissioners there has a “significant role in policy decision making,” but the LAPD does the research and analysis.

“99 percent of the policies start and are developed by the department and its professional staff because of the complexities that exist — whether it is about the law, wanting to use robust and sound research, negotiations with the unions and all of the other things to make sure it can actually be effective in operations of the LAPD,” Alikhan said.

Taliaferro believes the same thing will happen here.

“It’s a team effort — and the commission has the final authority on approval. That’s what I would like our city to do,” the chairman said.

“It allows our community to have input on major aspects of policy within the Police Department. ... I don’t agree with the notion that only police can write policy.”

The debate over what form civilian police review should take in Chicago has dragged on for years — ever since the Task Force on Police Accountability chaired by then-Police Board President Lori Lightfoot recommended that step to restore public trust.

The mayor’s office said Lightfoot still believes “implementing civilian oversight” of CPD “is an essential component for building greater transparency, accountability and trust between our law enforcement and the residents they serve.”

As for Taliaferro’s prediction about council approval in February or March, the mayor’s office would only say it remains “closely engaged” with Grassroots Alliance leadership and “committed to finalizing and working with the City Council to pass this legislation as soon as possible.”

The most recent version of the Grassroots Alliance ordinance calls for a nine-member commission, chosen by elected representatives from the 22 police districts. But it no longer gives that commission absolute power to fire the police superintendent or establish police policy.

Instead, policy would be written by the department and “reviewed and voted on” by the civilian commission.

Six of nine civilian commission members could get the ball rolling on a change at the top by taking a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent. The final word on firing would rest with a simple majority of the City Council.

When a police superintendent is fired or retires, the Civilian Police Commission would conduct the nationwide search and recommend three finalists. That commission also would recommend candidates to run the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and serve on the Police Board.