NW Side aldermen mull civilian police oversight
by KEVIN GROSS
Some Northwest Side aldermen said that they are opposed to a proposal to create a new civilian accountability commission for the Chicago Police Department, which would possibly have authority to direct policy, fire the police superintendent and issue subpoenas.
Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Alderman Harry Osterman (48th) have proposed an ordinance last month based on the work of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability in which a 7
member civilian Commission for Public Safety and Accountability would share superintendent hiring and firing authority with the mayor and would be required to choose a police superintendent among three commission-selected finalists. Currently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel selects candidates screened by his appointed 9-member Chicago Police Board.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), a former Chicago police officer and firefighter, said that hiring and firing powers go overboard for a civilian commission and would be composed of "people who apply assuming all police are dirty," and that the proposal only further disavows rank-and-file patrol officers.
"It’s going to destroy morale. We already have trouble with retaining and filling positions. No one wants to take the job," Napolitano said. "The vast majority of police officers, they’re not going to do any proactive police work because if you do anything proactive you’re going to be singled out as ‘overaggressive.’"
"The day I was sworn in my father said, ‘Anthony I want to let you know, everybody hates the police until they need you, and they’ll keep hating you unless you do the job they want you to do,’" Napolitano said.
The commission would choose the head of the investigative Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and members of the Chicago Police Board, as well as hold authority to dismiss the heads of both offices with reasonable cause.
However, at the City Council meeting on March 28, Public Safety Committee chairman and 30th Ward alderman Ariel Reboyras proposed two plans that would eliminate the commission’s firing power over the superintendent, which he said was necessary to make another oversight layer politically palatable.
"The only time City Council members could overweigh anything the proposed commission does is that we would need to take a two-thirds vote. That seldom occurs in the council," Reboyras said. "I don’t think the original proposal would pass (a Council vote), the way it’s written right now."
Under his ordinances, he described a civilian commission with a more advisory role to police policy. The commission would lack power to issue subpoenas and would be appointed by aldermen, the mayor, other commissioners or a combination thereof.
Under the original proposal, 3-person community councils from the 22 police districts would appoint the commission members, which would be elected every 2 years.
Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) was hesitant about the Grassroots Alliance’s original idea.
"I think that gives too much authority to the civilian oversight personnel, where it’s bumping up against some of the responsibility that current powers have, to hire and fire the superintendent," Villegas said, adding that a hybrid of the three proposals could result in a situation where "everybody leaves the table not getting everything, but something."
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said that he would be unwilling to support another layer of oversight no matter what the form.
"First of all we don’t need more oversight, we have enough layers already with body cameras, supervisors, media, the ISP (Illinois State Police), the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), the FBI, COPA, the Police Board, the Attorney General, the State’s Attorney and so on," Sposato said. "Secondly, there is no fair way to decide who has any say over anything (regarding police policy)."
Reboyras insisted that he would host "robust discussions and debate of all models" in committee, that he "agrees with civilian input," and that his intent is "not to throw out the GAPA ordinance. The intent is to hear the three ordinances introduced and take bits and pieces, and so City Council can approve it."
Aldermen said it is currently uncertain how the proposals would be affected by a recent agreement between Emanuel and organizations such as the ACLU and Black Lives Matter to consult and negotiate on police policy reforms.
Since the agreement many such groups have suspended their pending lawsuits against the city regarding police brutality, which stacked on top of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s court-ordered consent decree for police reforms.