By Larry Sachs
Feeling less safe, anguish over violent crime and calls for police reform are not new or unique to Chicago. According to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, there are at least 200 police oversight agencies in the country, and most large cities have one of some kind. Discussions about police reform and allied governmental and community-based efforts to reduce crime have spanned decades and focused, typically, on giving “community” a voice in and “appropriate” authority over law enforcement policy and practice to reduce crime and to help prevent and improve response to police misconduct and discriminatory practices.
Below is a very brief and abbreviated history of recent police reform efforts in Chicago:
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA): Mayor Rahm Emanuel created a Police Accountability Task Force in December 2015 whose April 2016 report listed over 100 CPD reform recommendations, including creation of a “Community Safety Oversight Board.” In October 2016, the City Council passed an ordinance to establish COPA, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (Home – Civilian Office of Police Accountability (chicagocopa.org) as the civilian CPD oversight agency of the Chicago Police Department. COPA’s primary mission: investigate allegations of police misconduct, identify and address patterns of police misconduct, and make policy recommendations to reduce police misconduct.
The Chicago Police Consent Decree: After months of negotiations, the Illinois Attorney General and the City of Chicago announced a draft consent decree in July 2018. After inviting and reviewing community input, a revised federal consent decree was finalized in January 2019 that mandated comprehensive and federally enforced police reforms. The Chicago Police Consent Decree website (CPCD – Homepage (chicagopoliceconsentdecree.org) states that “A consent decree can set a high bar for police accountability and the protection of civil rights. It will also help ensure that Chicago police officers get the training resources and support they need to perform their jobs professionally and safely . . .” Key consent decree requirements: a federally appointed independent monitor to evaluate and report on CPD’s implementation of comprehensive reform efforts; and the consent decree must stay in place until a federal judge determines that CPD has implemented and maintained the mandated reforms.
The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA): In July 2021, a Chicago ordinance created a new model for police oversight and accountability consisting of a seven-member citywide Community Commission appointed by the Mayor and three-member elected District Councils in each of Chicago’s 22 police districts (City of Chicago: Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability). Unlike COPA’s investigative mission and the Consent Decree’s court-driven and wide-ranging CPD reform mission, the CCPSA mission is to increase public safety by ensuring that CPD policies and practices are rooted in community needs and public input, and are not harmful to people in Chicago, and to build trust and improve interactions between CPD and the people it serves. CCPSA will use its many “powers and duties” to accomplish this mission, including but not limited to: assessing the performance of and setting goals for the CPD Superintendent, COPA Administrator and Police Board President; identifying CPD Superintendent replacement candidates for mayoral consideration; and overseeing and delegating powers and duties to the District Councils. For an illuminating read, check out: CCPSA Report on Proposed 2023 CPD Budget.pdf (chicago.gov).
According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, Elected police district councils are key to civilian oversight and reform, District Councils will “serve as CCPSA’s eyes and ears” and “how useful these councils become will depend on who voters elect, and how committed to reform those individuals will be.” District Councils duties will include but not be limited to: holding at least monthly meetings to discuss policing issues; encouraging CPD to facilitate access to community resources; helping CPD develop and implement community policing initiatives; working to develop and expand restorative justice and similar programs; making policy recommendations to the Commission; and nominating CCPSA candidates.
So you know, the CCPSA interim Commissioner representing our local communities is Rev. Dr. Ruth Brown, pastor of the Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church – and we have an opportunity to vote on February 28 to elect three of six candidates running for CPD’s 18th District Council seats: Kimberly Lynn Bowman, Amy Cross, Robert Johnson, Karen Kane, Brad Kessler, and Lisa Seigneur. Please research these candidates (review their endorsements, qualifications, and positions on topics of interests here: 2023 Chicago Police District Councils Voter Guide – Chicago Reader) and please vote for three 18th District Council Members on February 28!