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Chicago police union seeks to remove 22 disciplinary cases from police board’s docket

The request comes after an arbitrator ruled that officers facing serious discipline should have a choice to have their case decided by a police board or a third party

Chicago Police Department

Brian Cassella

By Sam Charles
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The union representing rank-and-file Chicago police officers is pushing to remove more than 20 pending disciplinary cases from the Chicago Police Board’s docket and instead have them decided behind closed doors — a change that would upend more than 60 years of precedent in the city’s police accountability apparatus.

The effort by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 comes as the largest Chicago police union and the city continue to negotiate a new contract.

The union’s request to move the cases was made days after an arbitrator ruled that CPD officers facing serious discipline should have a choice as to whether their cases are decided by the nine-person police board or by an outside third party.

The arbitrator’s award isn’t binding, though, as the contract negotiations between the city and FOP are ongoing and will require approval by the City Council before it can take effect.

In a statement, board President Ghian Foreman, said: “The arbitrator’s decision, if allowed to take effect, will be a serious setback for police accountability in Chicago.”

“This decision will drive these cases behind closed doors at a time when it has never been more important to increase the public’s confidence in the process for handling allegations of police misconduct and to build greater trust between the police and the communities they serve,” Foreman added.

The police board is scheduled to hold a regular meeting Thursday evening.

Tim Grace, an FOP attorney, filed the motion to pause the 22 cases as part of the ongoing disciplinary proceedings against Officer David Laskus, who faces potential firing over an arrest that occurred at the Brickyard Mall during the period of unrest in May 2020.

Addressing the motion Monday, Grace said he was “quite surprised” that attorneys for the city were pushing back on the union’s efforts.

“We all know where this is going to go: Arbitration,” Grace said. “The officers will have a right to choose between the police board and arbitration. I think we’ll be trying a lot of cases at the police board, still, in the future, but I think that there are going to be some officers that want arbitration.”

“There’s no reason to do this twice,” Grace added. “It just costs the city more money, it costs the union more money that it’s paying for these cases. I think that we should stay these cases until the city comes back and, you know, agrees upon the specificity of how the process is going to work in the future.”

In response, Hillina Tamrat, an attorney for the city, pointed to the lack of City Council approval.

“The award, the supplemental award, is not final,” Tamrat said. “In addition to not being final, it is not effective until it has been approved and ratified by City Council, and none of those things have happened.”

A representative for the city’s Law Department, citing the ongoing contract negotiations, declined to comment beyond what Tamrat said during Laskus’ hearing on Monday.

The police board hearing officer denied Grace’s motion, a duplicate of which was filed in another pending police board case, and city attorneys said they would respond further in writing in the coming days.

In his weekly message to members, union President John Catanzara said the union and city engaged in two bargaining sessions last week, both of which, he said, were “extremely productive.”

“The city realizes (that) negotiating in good faith for a change is the best path forward as the arbitration process continues,” Catanzara said.

Police board cases play out similarly to criminal trials, but the board is only involved in the most severe instances of misconduct — those where the superintendent calls for an officer to be suspended for at least a year or fired from the CPD.

After the superintendent files administrative charges against an officer, an evidentiary hearing is scheduled. The hearings typically last one to three days and involve witness testimony and exhibits, but they are not overseen by a judge. Instead, a hearing officer oversees the matter to ensure that procedure is followed.

Evidentiary hearings are audio- and video-recorded, too, and the nine members of the police board review the footage and hearing transcripts before voting on whether or not an officer is guilty of the charges. If an officer is found guilty by a majority of the board members, then the board will hand down punishment.

The entire process — from the time an officer is charged to the board’s final decision — often takes several months to complete, if not longer. If the board votes to fire an officer, they can appeal in Cook County Circuit Court.

Historically, all nine members of the board were appointed by the mayor. What’s more: The board was also responsible for finding the three finalists to fill the CPD superintendent position whenever there was a vacancy.

Both those policies changed in 2021 when the City Council voted to create the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, empowering the new body to select future superintendent finalists as well as filling future vacancies on the police board.

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