An influential alderman has canceled Friday’s showdown vote on the volatile issue of civilian police review to give Mayor Lori Lightfoot time to draft a substitute ordinance that waters down the panel’s authority to make policy for the Chicago Police Department.
The Committee on Public Safety was scheduled to meet Friday to choose between proposals drafted by the Civilian Police Accountability Council and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.
The Grassroots Alliance proposal is the more moderate of the two. Chairman Chris Taliaferro told the Sun-Times earlier this week he expected that version to pass.
But that was before Lightfoot asked Taliaferro to cancel Friday’s meeting to allow her to introduce a substitute ordinance that, among other things, would empower the mayor to break disputes whenever she and the commission disagree on proposed changes to police policy.
Taliaferro has put himself in the political crosshairs for doing the mayor’s bidding. When ONE Northside’s Police Accountability Team got wind of the cancelation, they put out an emailed “action alert” urging supporters to call Taliaferro and demand that Friday’s meeting go on as scheduled.
“We understand that [Lightfoot] plans to introduce her own ordinance, something created with no community input,” ONE Northside told its supporters.
“Mayor Lightfoot is doing this, despite the fact that GAPA has proposed a powerful, transformational and workable ordinance that will transform safety and policing in Chicago. This is not ok. It’s time to act. Call Alderman Taliaferro. … Tell him that he must hold a Public Safety Committee meeting to vote on GAPA immediately.”
Taliaferro defended his decision to cancel the meeting. He also agreed with the mayor that she deserves to have the final say in disputes over police policy.
“The mayor wears everything — whether good or bad — that happens in this city. It’s her leadership that is either going to suffer or actually receive the accolades from this city based on her leadership,” Taliaferro said.
“Giving up that control for the police department to the commission to make decisions regarding the operations of our Police Department is a big step. But you have to maintain some type of, not necessarily control, but say if you’re going to wear the hat and shoulder the burden if something goes wrong.”
Lightfoot has also objected to empowering the civilian police review board to take an advisory vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent.
Taliaferro said he has no idea how the mayor’s substitute ordinance will address that. But he has no problem giving the civilian board the power to initiate a no-confidence vote, so long as a two-thirds vote of the City Council is needed to remove the superintendent.
“That’s the community’s voice speaking. I’m not in opposition to a vote of no-confidence,” he said.
Last year, a civilian police commissioner in Oakland, California voted to fire its police chief.
That hardened Lightfoot’s opposition to giving a civilian oversight panel in Chicago similar powers even though that’s precisely what she promised as a candidate, running on her police reform credentials as a former police board president and co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability.
“You need to look no further than Oakland and what has happened there to see what the downside of that can be. The mayor felt very strongly that the power needs to remain with her. She’s still gonna have to deal with it in the court of public opinion,” a top mayoral aide told the Sun-Times last year.
Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Harry Osterman (48th), prime movers behind the Grassroots ordinance, could not be reached for comment on Taliaferro’s decision to cancel the showdown vote.
Taliaferro said he’s not concerned about wearing the jacket for canceling the meeting under pressure from the mayor.
“It’s the responsible thing to do if the mayor of this city wants to introduce a substitute ordinance on any matter regarding the operation and governance of this city,” he said.
Whenever the vote is ultimately held, it is certain to be close. That means Lightfoot is picking a political fight she could lose.
“Representatives of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability are very confident in their vote. That’s why they drew a line in the sand with regard to policy. So, we will see,” Taliafero said.