The Chicago City Council has a historic opportunity to implement meaningful and necessary reforms to create a community oversight commission that will transform the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the communities it serves.
On Tuesday, March 13, 2018, CRS stood with community leaders from the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), Aldermen from across the city, and other public safety stakeholders, to announce our comprehensive ordinance for The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (the Commission). Our ordinance will establish a new two-tier community oversight system: a Community Commission that will give communities a meaningful role in shaping police policy while holding leaders accountable, and District Councils that will inform and shape community policing at the district level.
This announcement was the culmination of a nearly two-year process, prompted by the 2016 Mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force’s (PATF) report which called for the development of a “community oversight safety board” that would “ensure that…all components of the police oversight system are held fully accountable, operate with maximum transparency and perform their roles in a manner that is informed by community needs.” The task force also said that the selection of members and powers of this board needed to be determined through a broad community engagement process. This is the process that GAPA has led culminating with the public release of our proposal.
In 2016, a broad coalition of community organizations came together and formed GAPA for the purpose of responding to the recommendation of the Police Accountability Task Force to develop a community safety oversight board. Over the next 18 months, GAPA hosted over 100 meetings and engaged thousands of community residents to develop our proposal. Through our listening process, GAPA acertained that the Commission needes to establish legitimacy by following four guiding principles: safety, trust, engagement, and independence. Our communities will be made safer if there is mutual trust between CPD and the communities it serves. That trust can only be restored if there is an independent oversight commission that engages the community's concerns at the local level.
Our proposal calls for the creation of the Commission, (a seven-member body that would oversee the Chicago Police Department), Civilian Office for Police Accountability (COPA), and the Police Board. The Commission will ensure that effective leadership is in place by participating in the selection and termination of the Police Superintendent, COPA Chief Administrator, and Police Board President and members. The Commission will also establish strategic goals and priorities in collaboration with the entities it oversees and will hold leaders accountable by conducting annual reviews to determine the extent to which these entities have advanced their goals and priorities. The Commission will work with the Police Department and COPA to set policy with final policymaking authority vested in the Commission.
In order to deepen relationships and restore trust at the district level, our proposal will also create elected District Councils within each of the city’s 22 police districts. District Councils will provide a platform to improve community policing and serve as the eyes and ears of the Commission in each district, ensuring that the Commission is always connected to the realities on the ground. A selection committee made up of one District Council member from each of the City’s 22 police districts will select the members of the Commission.
After the Laquan McDonald video was released in 2015, Mayor Emanuel promised significant police accountability reforms to restore the public’s trust in Chicago’s policing and police accountability systems. He said, “If any good comes from this tragedy, it should be a historic set of reforms that prevent abuses, promotes transparency and rebuilds the confidence of all Chicagoans that they will be treated fairly. That is the marker I am setting for myself, the next police superintendent and the reform commission I’ve appointed. And it’s one by which I expect to be measured.”
The City Council and Mayor Emanuel now have a clear opportunity to honor the promise that was made in 2015. Chicago must embrace community oversight if it hopes to correct years of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing that have produced widespread distrust of the Chicago Police Department. Through our ordinance for a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, Chicago can implement historic reforms that will transform the relationship between CPD and our communities.