DEC 23, 2021
After delay in establishing police oversight commission, applications set to open before year’s end
Ald. Jason Ervin (28) speaks during a news conference celebrating the passage of a civilian oversight ordinance [Erin Hegarty/The Daily Line]
A little more than five months after the City Council approved the creation of a long-sought civilian commission to oversee the Chicago Police Department, aldermen are set to open applications for the inaugural interim citywide commission after missing a series of key deadlines.
The City Council in July voted 36-13 to pass what many city leaders called a “historic” and “first-of-its-kind” ordinance (SO2019-4132) just one day after the ordinance passed the council’s public safety committee in a narrow 12-8 vote. The ordinance establishes three-member district councils for each of the city’s 22 police districts and a citywide commission empowered to implement police policy. The district councils are tasked with collecting input from the community and interfacing between residents and the police department.
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The 22 district councils are also tasked with choosing members of the citywide commission that will have the authority to draft policy and adopt with a two-thirds vote a “resolution of no confidence in the fitness” of the police superintendent, a police board member or the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
But until members of the district councils are elected in 2023, the ordinance calls for a seven-member interim commission to be in place.
According to the legislation, the City Council’s Committee on Committees and Rules is tasked with nominating 14 people for the mayor to consider for appointment to the seven-member interim commission.
The ordinance aldermen approved set Dec. 1 as the deadline for a key City Council committee to send its list of 14 potential candidates for the citywide commission to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but aldermen have said working through the city’s budget caused a delay in work on the civilian oversight commission.
The ordinance requires the interim commission to include at least four nominees who live on the North Side, at least four nominees who live on the South Side and at least four nominees who live on the city’s West Side.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48), a key sponsor of the ordinance, told The Daily Line on Wednesday that aldermen are expecting to have applications for Chicagoans to apply for a seat on the commission posted to the City Council Committee on Committees and Rules website next week.
Osterman said the process is “a little delayed because of the budget process where we spent a lot of energy and time and focus” on allocating a “significant” amount of money toward violence prevention, housing and “other things that get at the systemic causes of violence in our city.”
The applications will include a list of qualifications, which are also spelled out in the ordinance, that applicants will need to meet in order to be considered for the citywide oversight commission. The rules committee will accept the commission applications and a “working group” of aldermen is expected to vet candidates through a process including interviews, Osterman said.
The rules committee will ultimately vote on a list of 14 potential commission members to send to Lightfoot, who will select the seven members of the commission.
“We want to make sure we’re being thoughtful and making sure we go through the process,” Osterman said, adding that more information will be available as the announcements about the applications are made and as the rule committee selects its 14 nominees.
Osterman expects the rules committee to narrow down its list of nominees within about six to eight weeks.
“In a challenging year this was something the City Council worked together on,” Osterman said, adding one intention of the oversight commission is “to bring a positive transformation” to the relationships Chicago residents have with the police department.
“A critical part is for us to get the interim commission moving forward,” Osterman said.
The civilian oversight ordinance was the product of an agreement aldermen reached with Lightfoot just days before the measure was approved. Civilian oversight was a campaign promise Lightfoot had charted for her first 100 days, but July’s vote came more than two years into her term.
The police oversight ordinance also stipulated that the commission by Nov. 1, 2021 “shall be staffed by adequate numbers of personnel to competently and thoroughly carry out its duties.”
The budget for the commission and the 22 District Councils is set at no less than 0.22 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget, excluding grant funds. That amount is set at just more than $3.4 million for 2022.
The commission’s budget includes more than $1.36 million for personnel and just more than $2 million for contractual services.
The 14 personnel positions outlined in the commission’s budget include an executive director with an annual salary of $130,000; a Director of Planning, Research and Development with an annual salary of $92,004, an attorney and five project managers.
The ordinance tasks the executive director with administering “the affairs of the Commission and District Councils.”
A longstanding point of contention between the grassroots coalitions for civilian oversight and Lightfoot was over whether the civilian commission or the mayor would have final say over police policy decisions
Under the agreement, the citywide civilian commission has the authority to approve police department policy, which would take effect 60 days after approval from the commission. But the ordinance gives the mayor power to veto policy passed by the commission within a 60-day period.
The mayor is required in any written determination rejecting policy to “explain with specificity the reason for rejection,” according to the ordinance.
The mayor’s veto would be final unless, as is the case with other city legislation, two-thirds of the City Council, or 34 aldermen, vote to overrule the veto, in which case the policy would take effect “30 days after such affirmative vote,” the ordinance shows.
If a vote of no confidence in the police superintendent, police board members or the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) chief administrator passes the citywide commission, it would trigger a meeting of the City Council Committee on Public Safety, during which members would vote on whether “to recommend that the affected party be removed for Just Cause,” according to the ordinance. The superintendent, police board member or chief administrator can request to speak during the meeting, and if committee members uphold the commission’s ruling, the City Council would be tasked with voting on the recommendation for removal.
If two-thirds of City Council members vote to remove the superintendent or a member of the police board, “the Mayor shall respond in writing to the City Council within 14 days after adoption of the resolution, explaining the actions that the Mayor will take in response,” according to the ordinance. A two-thirds vote from the City Council to remove the COPA chief administrator triggers their removal “pursuant to a schedule that will permit an orderly transition in that office” without action from the mayor.
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